Bjerregaard to push for air pollution proposal

National emission ceilings back on table, despite EU Commission resignation crisis

The European Commission is set to propose a pair of major draft EU air quality laws in the coming weeks - despite the fact that all 20 commissioners have officially resigned. According to well-placed Commission sources, the EU's acting environment commissioner, Ritt Bjerregaard, hopes to circumvent the Commission's self-imposed inertia and propose two new directives - one setting maximum limits for each EU state's emissions of acidifying pollutants - the other setting air quality rules for ground-level ozone.

The proposals had already been agreed by the offices of the 20 commissioners just days before the resignation crisis in March (ENDS Daily 16 March). Following the resignations, the acting Commission said it would only deal with non-controversial business matters and not propose any legislation. In this spirit, it decided to put the national emissions ceilings (NEC) and ozone proposals, along with a strategy on ozone pollution, on hold.

ENDS Daily has learned that Ms Bjerregaard now hopes to persuade her colleagues that the environmental package should be an exception to the rule. The Danish politician seems unlikely to be re-appointed when a new set of commissioners take their positions in September and, according to sources, is keen to put this last legislative package forward before then.

Ms Bjerregaard's main justification for proposing the legislation will be that she was asked to do so by the Finnish government which assumes the rotating presidency of the EU in July. During a recent visit to Helsinki, the Finnish environment minister Satu Hassi told Ms Bjerregaard she would like to see the NEC and ozone legislation proposed so they could be discussed during Finland's six-month tenure.

Ms Bjerregaard will also argue that the NEC proposal is an essential part of the EU's long-term strategy to combat acidification - established two years ago (ENDS Daily 13 March 1997) - rather than an entirely new idea. Another pressing reason to propose the legislation now is that without it member state diplomats will be unable to proceed with negotiations on another draft directive already proposed by the Commission which would set new standards for large combustion plants (LCP). Negotiators in the Council of Ministers want to look at the NEC and LCP proposals simultaneously as both contain proposed emissions limits for the acidifying gases sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (ENDS Daily 12 March).

A Commission source said the aim was to propose the legislation - along with a strategy for tackling ozone pollution - within the next two weeks.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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