The European Parliament has allowed member states more time and flexibility on meeting clean-air standards, bringing concern to the Commission and environmental groups.
The Commission said that it was “concerned” after the Parliament voted on 26 September to weaken a proposed directive on ambient air quality which is the cornerstone of its clean-air strategy.
New proposals were put forward by the Commission last year to cut emissions of fine-dust particles, ozone and other air pollutants harmful to human health.
At the time, Brussels estimated that the measures could reduce the number of premature deaths “from 370,000 a year in 2000 to 230,000 in 2020” for an estimated cost of 7.1 billion euro per annum. Potential benefits in terms of reduced sickness and hospitalisation costs were valued at tens of billion of euro per year.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said that he was “disappointed” with the Parliament’s amendments which he said “appear to contradict” the objective of protecting citizens’ health “by weakening the legislation we have proposed in some key respects”. Dimas said that he was concerned in particular with two of the following amendments:
- One extending the deadline to reduce concentration limits of fine dust particles (PM10) beyond 2010, and;
- another that weakens the daily-limit concentrations of PM10 by allowing cities or regions to exceed them up to 55 days per year instead of the 45 initially foreseen.
On a more positive note, the Parliament voted to reduce concentration of PM10 to 33 millionths of gramme per cubic metre (33µg/m3) on average from 2010, down from the 40µg/m3 initially proposed by Brussels.
Regarding smaller dust particles (PM2.5), which are the most harmful to human lungs, the Parliament was of the opinion that it was too early to set limit values for now “given the current state of scientific knowledge”. MEPs instead suggested an indicative target of 20µg/m3 from 2010 that will become legally-binding in 2015.