Suburban sprawl pollutes Hungary
The rapid rise in commuter traffic to and from Budapest is creating Los Angeles-style smog.
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In Poland, EU membership has brought a flood of truck traffic pouring over its once-quiet eastern borders with Lithuania and Belarus. The government's solution – to build a highway through the Rospuda forest, one of Europe's last wild places – triggered an outcry from environmentalists across the continent. The European Commission has asked the European Court of Justice to block the highway, saying it would destroy primeval forests and wildlife habitat of continental significance.Skip to next paragraph
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"Those promoting these big infrastructure projects don't recognize that nature has nowhere else to retreat," says Mr. Zlinszky.
Industry vs. agriculture
Other developments are pitting EU member countries against one another.
Earlier this month, Slovakia abandoned plans to build a coal-fired power plant because of opposition from Hungary, which feared damage to the neighboring Tokaj grape-growing region, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom has criticized Austria for failing to stop its tanneries from polluting the Raba, a river shared by both countries.
Budapest's worsening air pollution is due in large part to the advent of American-style suburban housing developments and shopping centers, according to Andras Lukacs, president of the Clean Air Action Group. "Several hundred thousand people have moved out of central Budapest and gone to these new so-called residential parks in what used to be green areas," he says. "Each day they come back to their jobs here, but because public transportation isn't so good out there, they take their cars."
Hungarians now own 3 million passenger cars, nearly twice as many as in 1989, according to government figures. "Traffic is the main air quality problem," says Mr. Lukacs.
Increased natural gas prices are causing trouble, too, prompting cash-strapped homeowners to heat with wood or coal instead. "These fuels are cheaper, but they're much more harmful from the environmental point of view," says Judit Varga of the Ministry of Environment and Water, who says many apartment buildings are now trying to disconnect themselves from Budapest's gas-fired district heating plants.
Lukacs says cleaning up the city's air will require a combination of better land use planning, lower ticket prices for public transportation, and the introduction of congestion tolls and higher parking fees in the city center. "It's about reducing traffic and increasing public transport use," he says.