The Council of Ministers on 23 October 2006 voted to tighten pollution thresholds in ambient air that the European Parliament weakened just weeks before (EurActiv 27/08/06), setting the stage for a showdown when the two EU lawmaking bodies seek agreement next year.
The proposal to revise the EU Ambient air quality directive is now being forwarded to Parliament for a second reading due to take place in 2007.
The directive is the other side of a coin that also comprises tackling pollution at the source with the next generation of emission limits for cars (Euro 5) being approved separately.
In its current form, the proposal leaves unchanged existing rules relating to concentrations of fine dust particles with a diameter of less than 10 micrometer (PM10) which cause respiratory illness among humans.
The new element thus concerns a proposal to limit concentration levels of PM2.5, an even finer dust particle that is currently not regulated and which the Commission says is responsible for 350,000 premature deaths in Europe every year.
The main elements of the Council's agreement are:
- A non-binding target value for PM2.5 in 2010 to be replaced by a binding limit value in 2015 (25 micrograms(µ)/m3 for both target value and limit value);
- the possibility to postpone attainment of the limit value for PM10 until three years after entry into force of the directive, and;
- the possibility to postpone the deadlines for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and benzene by a maximum of five years (until 1 January 2015).
In line with the Parliament's position, the revised proposal also leaves more flexibility for member states to adapt to local situations (hot weather, 'imported' pollution) which can worsen air quality.
Limit values, the Council agreed, should apply everywhere except in certain zones where they can be overshot: "Where they can demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable measures to implement the legislation but still need more time to comply with air quality standards in certain places, it is proposed to allow them to request a time-limited extension to the compliance deadline in the affected zones under certain conditions".