Oil Tycoons Blamed for Dirty Air

MTSmog hanging over central Moscow, the result of pollution and winter fog.��
Mayor Yury Luzhkov on Thursday accused oil companies and the federal government of hindering City Hall's efforts to reduce the level of automobile emissions in Moscow.

Air quality in Moscow has been improving over the past three years, and pollution levels in the city are currently the same as in New York and London, according to an annual report released Thursday on the state of Moscow's environment.

But Luzhkov told a news conference that the oil industry lobby and the federal government are compromising Moscow's efforts to introduce progressively stricter fuel standards that would eventually match current European Union standards.

"All of Europe is already moving to Euro-5 [fuel], and nobody besides the oil tycoons is preventing us from doing the same," Luzhkov said.

In an effort to make central Moscow less polluted, City Hall prohibited trucks with Euro-2 type engines from driving inside the Third Ring Road last year. The EU switched to Euro-3 emission standards in 1996 and is currently moving from Euro-4 to Euro-5 standards.

New federal standards were introduced last year obliging oil companies to switch from Euro-2 to Euro-3 fuel beginning this year, but oil companies have convinced the government to push back the transition by at least two years.

Auto transport in Moscow accounts for 3.8 million tons of fuel consumed and produces 1 million tons of polluting chemicals annually. Eighty-three percent of all pollution in the city comes from cars, according to the report.

Luzhkov was also critical of disappearing forests in the Moscow region.

Over the past 10 years, the amount of forest land in the region inexplicably decreased by more than 87,000 hectares, "almost the same size as Moscow," Luzhkov said. "The lungs of the city are shrinking like the wild ass's skin."

Luzhkov was referring to a novel "The Wild Ass's Skin" by 19th-century French writer Honore de Balzac, which involves a magical shrinking piece of leather.

City Hall has asked -- in vain -- the Prosecutor General's Office to investigate why the forests are disappearing, Luzhkov said.

Calls to the Moscow region administration's press office went unanswered Thursday.

Forest conservation seemed to occupy Luzhkov on more than one level.

When Greenpeace Russia head Ivan Blokov suggested that next year's environmental report be printed on double-sided paper, Luzhkov perked up and said, "I will write the necessary decree as soon as I come back to the office."

"I hadn't thought of it before," Luzhkov added enthusiastically.