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European Union proposes plan to cut gas use with Russia cutoff ‘likely’

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European Union proposes plan to cut gas use with Russia cutoff ‘likely’

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BRUSSELS – The European Union on Wednesday called on its member states to ration gas as they prepared for a “possible scenario” that Russia could cut off gas supplies to Europe.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has put forward a proposal for countries to cut gas use by 15% by March from the five-year average for the same period.

As Russia cuts gas flows and threatens Europe, there are growing fears that high prices and supply shortages could lead to households without heating and industrial blackouts this winter. European officials have accused the Kremlin of retaliating against Western sanctions.

“Russia is blackmailing us. Russia is using energy as a weapon. So in any case, whether it is a partial, major cut off of Russian gas, or a complete cut off of Russian gas, Europe needs to be ready,” von der Leyen said in Brussels said at a press conference.

“We have to prepare for a potential total disruption of Russian gas,” she added. “It’s a possible scenario.”

The proposal still needs to be approved by member states, as Europe awaits whether Russia will restart flow through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline at the end of planned maintenance on Thursday. The pipeline operator told The Washington Post that Russian energy company Gazprom has submitted a request to restore the same level of natural gas through the pipeline as before the shutdown. But spokesman Uta Kull said nothing could be certain until the gas began to flow.

Germany fears enough gas for winter amid summer heatwave

Russia has halted gas deliveries to the Baltic states and Poland, Bulgaria and Finland, and has reduced gas supplies elsewhere.

According to von der Leyen, almost half of the countries in the EU are affected. “Overall, Russia’s gas flow is now less than a third of what it was at the same time last year,” she said, urging households, public buildings and industry to start rationing.

Wednesday’s proposal – the European Gas Demand Reduction Plan – would require governments to switch from natural gas to alternative fuels, incentivize industry to curb consumption and lay out ways for consumers to reduce energy for heating and cooling.

“Energy saved in summer is energy available in winter,” read the announcement about the new proposal and legislation.

If the energy situation deteriorates further, the committee hopes to trigger an EU alert to make the proposed cuts binding.

Under the proposal, if such a mechanism is approved and used, EU countries would need to report every two months how much gas they have reduced. However, it is unclear whether countries that fail to meet the target will face penalties.

The aftermath of the Russian-Ukrainian war has highlighted Europe’s dependence on Russian energy.

Immediately after the February 24 invasion, the EU took aim at Russia’s economy, imposing sweeping sanctions on the Kremlin.

But the EU lags the more diversified US in reducing Russian energy imports. In 2021, Europe will import about 40% of its natural gas and more than a quarter of its oil from Russia.

EU leaders have been trying for weeks to agree on a plan to phase out Russian oil imports. Ultimately, the EU was forced to offer extensions to several countries to temporarily keep some oil flowing.

Proposals for a natural gas embargo were ignored by most member states. In March, the EU said it would cut Russian imports by two-thirds this year. In the months since, the EU has been looking for new suppliers. For example, on Monday, the European Union signed a gas deal with Azerbaijan.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said the bloc had found replacements for about half of what they imported from Russia.

EU countries on Wednesday also approved a seventh round of sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine war.

Economic worries keep EU from imposing tougher sanctions on Russia

The latest measures ban gold imports, list new individuals and entities, and seek to improve the implementation and enforcement of existing sanctions. But the sanctions do not target natural gas imports.

The fight over energy supplies has raised questions about whether the EU will deviate from its climate commitments.

Wednesday’s proposal said member states should “exhaust all fuel substitution possibilities, non-mandatory savings schemes and alternative energy sources” before considering spending cuts.

“Where possible, a shift to renewable energy or cleaner, less carbon-intensive or less polluting options should be prioritized,” the committee wrote. “However, as an interim measure, a switch to coal, oil or nuclear may be required, as long as it avoids long-term carbon lock-in.”

In a press release, Greenpeace slammed the proposal, saying it focused too much on “facilitating a shift to dirty fuel sources such as oil and coal” and ignored the “adverse climate impact of unsustainable energy sources.”

Francis reported from London.

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