European steelmakers said they started legal action on Thursday (21 July) to overturn the way the sector has been included in the European Union's carbon market.
Industry body Eurofer says the rules for the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) do not fairly set a benchmark that would allow the industry's most efficient 10% of factories to get free pollution permits after 2013.
"Nowhere in the world is a steelworks that could operate its plants at the level of this benchmark," Eurofer Director-General Gordon Moffat said in a statement.
The European Commission, which oversees the ETS, could not be reached to comment on the challenge, launched at the European Court of Justice, the highest court in the EU.
The European Union aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions to 20% below 1990 levels over the next decade. Its main tool for doing that is the ETS, which forces companies to acquire permits for each tonne of carbon they emit.
Some industries, including steel, have been given permits for free to prevent their costs rising above those of overseas rivals.
That has often translated into windfall profits worth tens of millions of euros for the companies involved, such as steel giant ArcelorMittal.
From 2013, the EU aims to tighten up the ETS to eliminate such windfall profits, and only the 10% most efficient plants, which meet an efficiency benchmark, will receive free permits.
It is these benchmarks that have caused the dispute.
The steel industry says its installations recycle waste gases as an additional source of energy and has criticised the decision not to give credit for that in the benchmarking process.
"This is a clear infringement of the ETS directive, as the best performers will be short of free allowances," Moffat said.
Eurofer says the problems it sees with the benchmarks will cost the industry about €5 billion in the period 2013-2020.
EURACTIV with Reuters