Draft EU water law to challenge SMEs

Commission to set dangerous substance emissions limits for SMEs in framework directive

The European Commission is to amend its recently proposed water framework directive in order to set EU-wide limits on emissions of dangerous substances from small and medium-sized industries (SMEs).

The move follows criticism from industry and EU member states of a proposal to extend the EU directive on integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) to smaller companies. The Commission's environment directorate has now scrapped the plan and is, instead, to integrate the main elements of a 1976 directive on the discharge of dangerous substances into the water framework directive. The Commission's draft proposal says that this is "a quicker and simpler way to achieve the same objective".

Under the revised proposal, the Commission is to draw up a priority list of around 30 dangerous substances by the end of 1998. In a series of daughter directives, emission controls will then be set for each of these substances according to best available technology. In an example of the "combined approach" to emissions increasingly favoured by the Commission, water quality standards are to be set as well as emission limit values.

The 1976 dangerous substances directive established a list of 129 dangerous substances, but daughter directives have been agreed for only 17 of them. Francis Rillaerts of the European water services association, Eureau, told ENDS Daily that he had "doubts about the progress that will be made" with the new approach given the Commission's record. The EU Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce expressed similar doubts at a press conference in Brussels this morning.

In its draft proposal, the Commission says that the mechanism for prioritising dangerous substances will be simplified and speeded up. Where data on risk assessment "cannot reasonably be obtained in a given time, the Commission is determined not to use that as an excuse to delay the prioritisation," the paper states.

While welcoming the shelving of an IPPC directive for smaller installations, Eureau is wary of future burdens the revised framework directive may impose. In a recent letter to the Commission, the association said that the combined approach "will give rise to unnecessary effort and cost. If acceptable environmental quality standards are being satisfied, fixed discharge limit values should not need to be mandatory." The EU Committee, on the other hand, says that although it welcomes the combined approach, the procedure for setting emission controls will "give rise to unnecessary confusion and disputes".

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; Eureau, tel: + 32 2 534 5590; The EU Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce, tel: +32 2 513 6892.

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