The government on Wednesday insisted that it will not consider reducing the tax on heating oil amid warnings that the high cost of the fuel was leading Greek households to rely on fireplaces and wood-burning stoves to stay warm, driving smog to dangerously high levels in several parts of the country.
In a joint press conference held after an emergency meeting on Christmas Day, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis and Environment Minister Yiannis Maniatis said that responding to demands to reduce the tax on heating oil back to 2012 levels would be playing into the hands of fuel smugglers.
They also said that they are taking steps to ensure that households receiving reduced electricity rates because of their impoverished status will receive electricity free of charge on particularly cold days when smog levels are forecast to rise.
"We recognize the problem, but reducing the price of heating oil is not the cure," Stournaras said in the wake of multiple warnings with regard to the high levels of air pollution in Athens, Thessaloniki and other major Greek cities as a result of households burning wood to stay warm.
"Reducing the cost will boost smuggling and ultimately mean that we are subsidizing everyone, even those who use heating oil to warm their swimming pools, to cite one extreme example," Stournaras said, adding that the government has taken steps to ensure that more impoverished households are eligible for heating oil subsidies this winter compared to last.
Air pollution on Tuesday exceeded 200 mg/m3 level in Thessaloniki and other parts of northern Greece, and in other parts of the country overshot the 150 mg/m3 level the government last week set as a the trigger level at which it would offer free electricity to poor households.
The government on Wednesday said that it will revising this level down to 100 mg/m3.
Georgiadis supported Stournaras's position and added that 5 million people are currently eligible for heating oil subsidies, while Maniatis urged households that pay reduced electricity rates to take advantage of the measure and use heating devices that have a smaller environmental impact.
Maniatis also said that it will be up to regional governors to decide when to trigger the measure for free electricity to be provided based on smog readings.