Europe waters down air directive

The European Parliament appears to have contradicted itself this week by calling for more to be done to protect air quality and then voting to scrap parts of an important piece of legislation which would do just that.

The parliament endorsed the European Commission’s proposals for its Thematic Air Strategy, which looks to reduce air pollution within the union, but then voted through amendments to the related Air Quality Directive which blunt the legislation’s teeth.

Among the plans in the commission’s proposed directive are limits on ultra fine particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) which are thought to contribute to the premature deaths of 350,000 across the EU every year.

The directive as envisioned by the commission already contained a framework to allow member states unable to meet their targets within the deadline to apply for an extension but the parliament wants to see compliance put back further.

It also wants to rewrite the directive to allow members almost twice as many ‘off days’ per year, when they can miss targets without being penalised.

Rather bizarrely at the same time as weakening the directive, the parliament also voted to reduce the maximum allowed concentrations of PM10, from 40 microgrammes per cubic metre to 30.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas has spoken openly about his frustration at the parliaments position.

“I am pleased the parliament has endorsed our strategy for reducing air pollution and I acknowledge its expressed desire for even more ambitious levels of protection,” he said.

“However I am disappointed that the parliament’s amendments to the air quality directive appear to contradict this objective by weakening the legislation we have proposed in some key respects. Air pollution is shortening the life of every EU citizen by an average of eight months and we need to tackle it vigorously.

“We recognise the need for some extra time, but any extensions have to be strictly limited because they mean that people will be exposed to excessive pollution levels – and will therefore be running avoidable health risks – for a longer period.

“We cannot accept the parliament’s proposal for extensions of more than five years. In addition, weakening the daily limit value for PM10 means that people whose health is most affected by poor air quality may be exposed to higher pollution levels on significantly more days a year even if the annual limit value were to be lowered. This too is unacceptable. ”

London’s Green MEP, Jean Lambert, used blunter language, calling the parliament’s position ‘pathetic’.

“It is a scandal that the EU parliament has voted to weaken the existing air quality rules despite clear evidence of the severe health consequences of air pollution.

“The pollution limits in the proposed revision still fall far short of the limit values recommended by the World Health Organisation.

“This vote would suggest that incredibly the Parliament believe [Europeans] are more resilient than those across the US who enjoy air quality standards that are stricter than those being recommended by the European Parliament.

“Air pollution takes at least 8 months off our life expectancy and it’s pathetic that the European Parliament could not make a stand against weaker rules. We simply cannot accept this decision which will inevitably lead to an exacerbation of the already significant health problems caused by air pollution in London lets hope Parliament sees sense in the second reading.”

Sam Bond

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