Stricter new air quality rules become law

The European Council has approved two major EU air quality directives which will cut acid rain and smog and help the implementation of Kyoto Protocol commitments.

The laws, setting national emission ceilings (NECs) on four pollutants and limiting emissions from large combustion plants (LCPs),will now come into force after publication in the EU’s official journal, after Parliament held out during the two years of negotiations with the Council to make the laws tougher.

Parliament succeeded at first reading, by 452 votes to only two, in including older, dirtier plants in the directive on large combustion plants which was originally intended only to cover power stations built after 1987. Its delegation won stringent caps on nitrogen oxide, sulphur oxide and dust emissions in exchange for concessions designed to save older, mostly coal-fired, plants from closure. The thorniest issue was the nitrogen oxide (NOx) cap. Under the compromise deal, the strict new NOx limit won by Parliament will apply to new and old plants from 2016 – a crucial benchmark for the Eastern European accession countries – but plants operating at peak times only will be exempt from it. Anthracite power plants will however have to apply it from 2018.

The other part of the package, approved tight national ceilings to be met by the member states for four key atmospheric pollutants, sulphur dioxide, NOx, volatile organic compounds and ammonia. In a victory for Parliament, 2020 is set as the benchmark date for achieving the long-term goal of keeping within critical limits and protecting people against the health risks caused by air pollution, with 2010 set as the interim target date for achieving the binding limits set for each member state (see related story).

In a further success hailed by Finnish rapporteur Riitta Myller, when the directives were passed by Parliament shortly before going to the Council, an ambitious review clause now requires the Commission to report in 2004 and 2008 on the progress being made in meeting the targets. It must also examine the pollution caused by aviation and shipping.

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