The environmental organisation writes that the draft Industrial Emissions Directive (IPPC) is incompatible with the Treaty establishing the European Community when it states that operating permits for installations "shall not" include emission limit values for greenhouse gases in the case of industries that are included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS; see EurActiv LinksDossier). It notes that Article 176 of the EC Treaty guarantees member states that they can take "more stringent" environmental protection measures as long as these are compatible with the Treaty.
WWF argues that a "minimum harmonisation clause" of this type prevents the European Commission from prohibiting national introduction of emission performance standards for greenhouse gases for industrial installations.
"Such a prohibition represents in our view a maximum or complete harmonisation as it excludes the possibility to use a proven regulatory tool to limit emissions from specified activities in what is the 'general' and 'integrated' European regime for industrial pollution control," the letter reads.
WWF argues that the provision is misleading as member states believe emission limits on greenhouse gases are prohibited under the directive. In practice, the provision would not be enforceable, as a member state could easily challenge any Commission attempt to launch infringement proceedings against them for adopting such standards by referring to Article 176 in court, it added.
The letter was timed to reach the Council as it prepares its common position on the directive following the political agreement struck by environment ministers in June.
The NGO also plans to raise the issue with MEPs later in the autumn, when they start work on the second reading of the dossier.
The idea of including emission performance standards in the directive was floated by several MEPs before the Parliament adopted its first-reading position in March. But they were deemed inadmissible under the Parliament's rules of procedure (EurActiv 23/01/09).
Tool to reach climate goals
In January, a study by environmental groups WWF, Bellona Europa, ClientEarth, E3G and the Green Alliance argued that Europe could cut two-thirds of the greenhouse gases emitted by large power plants by 2020 if binding emission caps were introduced (EurActiv 14/01/09). Moreover, early implementation would make it cost-effective, it said.
Green groups would have liked to see the provision already included in the EU's emissions trading scheme last December, and have sought to include them in new legislation on industrial pollution instead.
WWF points out that emission standards have already been used successfully since 1988 as a way of slashing sulphur dioxide emissions from large combustion plants, which cause acid rain, by over 70%.
The NGO claims that similar success is urgently required on combating global warming gases as scientific evidence shows that the EU's 20% emissions reduction goal by 2020 falls far short of the 40% range that is sorely needed.
"Moreover, as the persistent weaknesses in the ETS are unlikely to be fixed in the near term, it is reasonable to expect that at least some member states will in addition wish to adopt more stringent measures, for example by including CO2 standards in some IPPC permits," the letter concludes.