"Ambitious" EU air pollution proposals emerge

Bjerregaard succeeds in getting NECs, ozone, drafts through "resigned" EU executive

The European Commission today adopted two major new legislative proposals aimed at significantly reducing acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone pollution in the EU. The proposals will help ensure that the "historical link between economic activity and pollution is effectively broken," the EU executive claims.

One of the draft directives proposes creating "national emissions ceilings" for four key air pollutants. The other proposes setting indicative limits for levels of ozone in ambient air.

Both should have appeared in March but were delayed by the resignation of the 20 EU commissioners (ENDS Daily 16 March). Acting environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard today persuaded her colleagues to allow the proposal to be formally adopted despite the fact that the EU commissioners are only acting in a caretaker capacity until they are replaced or re-appointed (ENDS Daily 25 May).

The directives have been warmly welcomed by a coalition of environmental and consumer NGOs, which had feared they might be completely derailed by the resignations. Christer Ågren of the Swedish NGO Secretariat on Acid Rain claimed that "large vested interests had sought to use the crisis in the Commission to block [their] adoption".

Ms Bjerregaard said the two directives, which will require most member states to take significant action against air emissions by 2010, were "ambitious" and "long overdue" as interim steps to completely eliminate acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone problems in the EU. "These serious problems can only be dealt with by transboundary solution, which only the EU can provide for its citizens," she said

The draft directive on national emissions ceilings includes draft limits on the amount each member state can emit of: sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It has been adopted alongside the ozone directive because NOx and VOCs are the main precursors of ozone, which is produced when the chemicals react in sunlight (see separate article in today's issue).

The ozone proposal is a "daughter directive" of the EU's 1996 air quality framework directive and would require member states to test ozone levels and take measures to reduce them to an indicative maximum value (see separate article in today's issue).

The Commission claims that the measures required to meet the various targets will cost a total of euros 7.5bn a year across the EU, but that this will be offset by benefits to human health and the environment valued at euros 17-32bn.

The estimated costs faced by each member state vary hugely, due to factors such as industry concentration, meteorological conditions and efforts that have already been made to tackle air pollution. The toughest tests will be faced in the industrial heartland of western Europe, especially in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Germany.

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

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