MEPs endorse EU drive for air emissions cuts

Environment committee makes few changes to draft national emission ceilings, ozone, directives

The European Parliament's environment committee has boosted the European Commission's efforts to persuade EU member states to impose stricter curbs on four key air pollutants which cause acidification and ground-level ozone formation. Considering directives on national emission ceilings (NECs) and ozone pollution at their first reading this week, the committee backed the Commission's proposed cuts in sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia (ENDS Daily 9 June 1999).

The proposals are on average 12% stricter than those agreed by member states under a UN/ECE protocol signed in Gothenburg last year. Governments' reluctance to contemplate tighter restrictions angered EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström, who refused to sign the protocol (ENDS Daily 30 November 1999). The Commission says 175,000 extra life-years would be saved annually if its proposals were endorsed.

The committee yesterday rejected by a comfortable majority a motion by the centre-right EPP group to stick to the UN/ECE figures. It then moved to tighten the EU targets further by voting to include aviation and maritime emissions of the pollutants in member states' emission totals. The Commission excluded these from its calculations because it says they are governed by international agreements .

Earlier today, the committee also approved a Commission target for reductions in ground-level ozone formation which the tighter emission ceilings are intended to achieve. It proposes that member states should ensure that the World Health Organisation's guideline of 120 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) is exceeded on no more than 20 days annually by 2010. However, the committee has made the wording of the target more binding and says a weaker long-term objective to eliminate exceedances should be met by 2020. The Commission did not set a date for achieving the objective.

MEPs voted by a modest majority against ozone limits proposed by the parliament's industry committee. This called for allowable exceedances on 40 days by 2010, 20 days by 2020 and no days by 2030. Though the limits on NECs and ozone proposed by rapporteurs Riitta Myller and Chris Davies are likely to be approved by the full parliament at first reading, they may not survive a second reading, when an absolute rather than a simple majority is required to pass amendments. Mr Davies said the NEC limits were politically "unrealistic" and "haven't the slightest chance of...reaching law," but argued that the parliament should back them to force greater concessions out of governments.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111. The texts of the amendments adopted by the committee will be put on its website tomorrow.

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