Air Pollution - Europe

The German Federal Administrative Court looked to the European Court of Justice for guidance in an air quality case.

The ECJ was asked to provide a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of Directive 96/62/EC on ambient air quality assessment and management.

The Reference was made in the course of proceedings between a resident of Munich and the German state of Bavaria.

The resident lived on the Landshutter Allee on Munich's central ring road. A nearby air quality measuring station revealed that the limit value for emissions of particulate matter was exceeded more than 35 times in a year. This went beyond the maximum number of instances permitted under national pollution control laws.

The resident brought an action against Bavaria in the national courts, requiring them to draw up an air quality action plan in the district, to determine the measures to be taken in the short term in order to ensure compliance with the maximum permitted number of exceedances of the emission limit value for particulate matter.

The Federal Court found that the resident did not have any entitlement to have an action plan drawn up under national pollution control laws.

However, the Court paused proceedings in order to ask the ECJ to provide a ruling on whether third parties affected by pollution were entitled to have air quality action plans drawn up on their behalf directly under the Directive.

The European Court said that whenever there was a failure to observe measures required by the Directive relating to air quality, designed to protect public health, which could endanger human health, then the persons affected must be in a position to rely on the mandatory rules contained within the Directive.

Accordingly, the ECJ held that the Directive must be interpreted as meaning that, where there is a risk that the limit values or alert thresholds may be exceeded, persons directly affected must be in a position to require national authorities to draw up an action plan.

However, the Court ruled that Member States are only obliged to take such measures in the short term as are capable of reducing to a minimum the risk that the limit values or alert thresholds may be exceeded and of ensuring a gradual return to a level below those values or thresholds.

The judgement in case C-237/07 can be found here.

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