The program endorsement was propelled by Parliament law passed on Jan. 19 this year that affirmed Estonia's addition to the Geneva Convention on cross-border pollution.
The law stipulates that private companies, including the U.S.-based NRG Energy which eyeing the still-tentative privatization of the Narva power plants, must take the initiative to pay for the investments necessary to cut pollution from combustion devices with an energy capacity of more than 50 megawatts.
The program is expected to cost the private sector up to 2 billion kroons. ($117.6 million).The government will not participate in implementation.
The government's role mostly confines itself to legislation, said Environment Minister Heiki Kranich, who added that he hopes the program will improve relations between the government and private capital about reducing pollution.
The pollution from the large combustion devices accounts for more than 90 percent of the country's total emission of air pollutants, which consist mainly of solid particles, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide.
Narva power plants are the number one contributor of these pollutants. They release more than 125,000 tons per year.
Nineteen other companies are also required to cut emission levels, including Kohtla Jarve Electric and Viru Energy.
When energy production increases, it will be hard to meet the demands of the law with the current devices, according to a the Ministry of Environment report. And if Estonia does not comply with the Geneva Convention directives, it could have problems with accession to the EU.
According to the program's timetable, the country's solid particle emissions must be reduced by nearly 40,000 tons per year or 56.4 percent of the current pollution level by the 2003 deadline. Carbon dioxide emissions must be cut by 23 percent, and nitrogen oxide levels by 10.7 percent.
Viktor Grigorjev, adviser to the Environment Ministry, called the government's goals realistic. New filters made by the Swedish company ADB are being installed at Narva power plants, which are very effective, he said. Once the oil shale problem is solved, the rest is much simpler.
The oil shale pollution problem has already been drastically reduced, he pointed out. "We now have half of the carbon dioxide emissions than in 1987; production is half of what it was," he said.
The state objectives include investigating the combustion devices, supporting the use of more environmentally-friendly fuels, controlling the quality and effectiveness of fuel use and analyzing the taxation of damages caused by air pollution.