Environmentalists blast air strategy as ‘toothless tiger’

The EC's Thematic Strategy on air pollution has come under fire from a prominent lobby group for failing to go far enough in protecting people's health and the environment.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is said to be very disappointed by the strategy and the accompanying directive proposal that brings together several existing air quality laws into one package.

The directive proposal does not set a legal obligation to reduce concentrations of harmful fine particulates, PM2.5, but instead opts for aspirations and non-binding targets, aiming to bring levels down by 2020.

“The Commission’s own analysis has shown that each year some 350,000 people die prematurely due to exposure to fine particles alone,” said Kerstin Meyer, air pollution officer at the EEB.

“In addition, millions of people suffer from respiratory illnesses. A legally binding requirement to make real reductions on particles emissions would have been the only right answer.

“Instead, the Commission decided to postpone such target setting for many years and to make the directive into a toothless tiger.”

The EEB is also unhappy that the directive proposal allows for the option of giving a five-year derogation to countries unable to meet the existing limit values for coarse particles (PM10).

“In most cases Member States have just not done enough and have not started early enough to meet the existing limits”, said Ms Meyer.

“Granting derogations simply rewards laggards”.

John Hontelez, Secretary General of the EEB, said: “This is the first Thematic Strategy of seven that the 6th Environmental Action Programme of 2002 promised.

“The programme had set objectives for each strategy – in the case of air, simply to ensure that people and the environment are protected from negative impacts from air pollution.

“What we see here is a small step, a step too small to accept, given the still worsening state of the overall environment in Europe, and the particular health risks of air pollution.”

The original proposals for the air strategy came under fire from pro-trade commissioners who said that costing €12 billion per year once implemented it would harm industry and the economy.

Despite arguing the money saved due to health benefits far outweighed the up-front costs, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas agreed to significant cuts that took the cost down to €7 billion per year.

By Sam Bond

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