MEPs back limits on industrial pollution

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The European Parliament’s environment committee yesterday (22 January) approved the introduction of EU-wide emission limits to a Commission proposal to revise an EU directive regulating industrial pollution.

Lawmakers in the committee adopted a report on the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive, requiring some 52,000 industrial operators to obtain permits from national authorities to release pollutants into the air, soil or water.

No less than 533 amendments were initially tabled to the controversial legislation. The compromise amendments, all of which were approved by MEPs, include less stringent reporting and inspection requirements, among other issues.

The revised text will be submitted to the EU assembly for final approval in March, but Parliament sources close to the file said it was unlikely that agreement would be reached with the Council before that date, meaning the directive may well require a second-reading vote in the next Parliament. 

MEPs called for a more flexible approach to setting limits for pollutants such as SO2, NOx, dust and CO, to which certain types of combustion plant would have to adhere. They said minimum emission limit values, which must not be exceeded, are needed to avoid having to resort to large-scale exemptions.

Such limits would be based on the best techniques available for specific sectors, and should be set by the Commission within a year of the adoption of reference documents describing the best techniques used in the bloc, emission levels and monitoring of soil and groundwater, MEPs said.

The committee also stressed that the best available techniques should be adaptable to local circumstances. Industry has been calling for such flexibility, because it has been relying on exemptions from existing legislation to keep some plants viable.

The directive was proposed by the Commission in December 2007, when the need for revised legislation emerged because many member states had failed to implement previous laws, leading to market distortions (EURACTIV 08/01/08).

German MEP Holger Krahmer, ALDE rapporteur on the dossier, said the new directive will guarantee that member states can no longer gain competitive advantages at the expense of the environment. “The existing legislation is largely neglected by the member states. Now it has a chance to succeed. This will ensure better environmental protection and a level playing field for industry,” he said.

The Parliament also reached agreement with the Commission to bring medium-sized combustion plants within the scope of the rules, but wanted to exclude small installations below 50 MW.

The industry expressed reservations about the new legislation. The European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) warned that a one-size-fits-all approach does not take into account specific environment and site circumstances, thus rendering the directive unsustainable.

CO2 limits for power plants left out

Several MEPs had pushed for the inclusion of CO2 emissions performance standards in the directive. Anders Wijkman (EPP-ED, Sweden) and Claude Turmes (Greens, Luxembourg) submitted amendments introducing limits to CO2 emissions from large combustion installations, but these were deemed inadmissible, along with around a hundred others, because the Parliament’s rules of procedure state that it can only amend parts of a re-cast directive that the Commission has already amended itself.

Meanwhile, environmental groups WWF, Bellona Europa, ClientEarth, E3G and the Green Alliance last week launched a new report showing that an early phase-in of binding emission limits to both existing and new power plants would help the EU to cut its greenhouse gas emissions significantly while boosting investment in cleaner technologies (EURACTIV 14/01/09).

Speaking in Brussels, Mark Johnston of E3G argued the IPPC Directive had a successful history of controlling “classical” emissions and could equally well be used to reduce CO2 emissions. 

Emissions performance standards were left out of the revised EU emissions trading scheme negotiated last December because the French EU Presidency was “throwing things overboard to reach a deal,” Johnston said, adding that there is still scope for implementation as the IPPC re-cast is only at first-reading stage.

The European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) welcomed the flexibility introduced to the directive regarding pollution levels in soil and water, but said it was still concerned by problems implementing the text.

In particular, Cefic rejected the "one-size-fits-all" approach taken by the Commission and MEPs as difficult to apply in practice. "The environmental and health impacts [of industrial activity] depend on time, circumstances of manufacturing (physics and geography) and environmental conditions," the group said in a statement. "Therefore, measures and technological choices have to differ."

According to Cefic, the directive should take account of the best technologies available as well as the local circumstances in which they are to be applied. "The plenary vote of the European Parliament of next March could tackle these issues so as to improve the workability and environmental effectiveness of the directive," Cefic concluded.

The 1996 Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) introduced a permit system to prevent and limit pollution from large-scale industrial installations. Sectors covered include everything from metals, chemicals and paper to processed food, oil refineries and large-scale pig and poultry farms. 

Permits are issued by the competent authorities in member states and require industrial operators to apply Best Available Techniques (BATs): the most cost-effective means of achieving a high level of environmental protection. 

Based on the BATs, which are set at EU level, the permits include precise limit values for atmospheric pollutants that cause acid rain and smog, such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), dust and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

Nevertheless, the current directive allows authorities to take into account the technical characteristics of the installation concerned, its location and local environmental conditions when drawing up emission limits – flexibility that the Commission believes is being abused. 

Indeed, although member states were given eight years (until October 2007) to ensure that their existing industrial installations are fully compliant, according to the Commission, just 50% of installations in the EU have been granted permits so far.

  • March 2009: Parliament plenary vote on the report.

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