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World & Nation

Dutch farmers and construction workers protest pollution policy

NETHERLANDS AGRICULTURE DEMO
Dutch farmers supported by some German farmers gather at the provincial government office in Arnhem, as they protest against the Dutch government measures against nitrogen emissions.
(ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/AFP / Getty Images)

From border crossings in the east to a steel factory in the west, Dutch farmers and construction workers protested Wednesday against government pollution policies they say are driving them out of business.

Farmers took to the roads in their tractors, blocking a major highway at the border with Germany. They also parked in the center of The Hague and in front of the entrance to a steel mill near the North Sea coast, Dutch police and media reported.

The Dutch protests are part of a wave of demonstrations in Europe that also includes unions in France that are upset over President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plans. Also Wednesday, opponents of legislation in Poland that would give the government the power to fire or fine judges are expected to take to the streets.

The unrest in the Netherlands began earlier this year when many construction projects were halted following a Dutch ruling that the government’s policy on granting building permits breached European pollution laws.

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The government has been scrambling ever since to do more to rein in its greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming. Wednesday’s protests came a day after Dutch senators approved urgent legislation to cut emissions of the pollutant nitrogen oxide. Measures include making farmers change the feed they give their livestock and extending a voluntary scheme to buy up pig farms.

The new legislation, which has already been approved by the lower house of Parliament, also lowers the maximum speed limit on Dutch highways from 130 kilometers per hour (about 80 mph) to 100 kph (about 62 mph).

The government announced Wednesday that it had reached a broad agreement with a coalition of farming groups to tackle nitrogen oxide emissions.

The Dutch government said it would hold talks with the agriculture sector on a package of investments that will enable “farmers who want to continue in a sustainable way and help farmers who want to stop voluntarily.”

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Farmers and construction workers who feel they are being unfairly targeted drove to a coal-fired power station and a steel factory Wednesday to underscore the fact that industry also is a major polluter.

While the protests were largely peaceful, police said they had issued 24 fines to farmers for offenses including driving tractors on highways. Police closed off a major highway near Amsterdam when farmers drove tractors onto the road.

Protester Jacco van den Berg told Dutch national broadcaster NOS that construction workers are prepared to take action to protect their livelihoods, which they say are threatened by measures to reduce pollution.

“Something has to happen,” he said. “We’re coming up to Christmas and there are companies that won’t make it to Christmas.”


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