Virtual agreement on two new air quality laws

The Council of Ministers and the European Parliament have reached virtual agreements on setting national emission ceilings (NECs) on four pollutants and limiting emissions from large combustion plants (LCPs).

At the conciliation meeting in Brussels on 26 June, the two parties both made concessions and developed a draft agreement. However, due to dwindled numbers of Euro MPs present late at night, a final vote could not be carried, although agreement is expected at the next meeting. The directives will limit emissions of pollutants causing acidification, eutrophication and tropospheric ozone, attempting to reduce the areas affected by acidification above critical level by 50% by 2010, for which limiting emissions from large combustion plants will play a major part. The two directives will be complemented by a third forthcoming directive about ozone in ambient air (see related story).

MEPs finally agreed to Council requests on NECs for sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds and ammonia (NH3), which had been agreed by ministers in June 2000, but are weaker than the Commission’s original proposed limits which Parliament had originally favoured (see table of NECs), with the figures up for review by the Commission in 2004. In return for reduced ceilings, parliament achieved a new clause dictating that by 2020 member states will not exceed ‘critical loads’ of the pollutants on the environment. However, MEPs insistence that the directive should cover ship and aircraft emissions was rejected, although the Commission will propose new initiatives for these emission sectors in 2002 and 2004 respectively.

For the LCPs directive, tighter controls on SO2, NOx and dust from power stations and large boilers were agreed by both parties, but planned exemptions for plants burning dirty ‘indigenous’ fuels such as lignite were withdrawn. One area where parliament had wanted stricter controls but conceded to Council requests was on emissions of NOx from so-called ‘existing’ LCPs – those built before 1987, which will take emissions to 200 milligrams per cubic metre (mg/m3) – the same levels made possible by new plants by 2016. By 2008, they must achieve a maximum of 500 mg/m3, but ‘peak-load’ plants – those which only function at times of high demand will have less stringent limits of 450 mg/m3 by 2016, provided that they only operate for less than 2,000 hours annually from 2008 to 2016.

“We had a fruitful discussion with the Parliament and were able to solve the really tough issues,” commented the Council’s representative, the Swedish Minister for the Environment Kjell Larsson. “I am confident that the Parliament will agree about the solution that we found when they discuss the issue again.”

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