EU Targets Heavy Industry Emissions

European Union environment ministers have cobbled together an agreement on plans to reduce industrial pollution, combining together a patchwork of previous anti-emissions legislation in a new piece of legislation that is expected to prevent thousands of deaths in the bloc every year.

Environmentalists however say they were disappointed that the final compromise amongst EU member states was considerably weaker than what had originally been proposed.

Targeting heavy industry, oil refineries and power plants, the deal agreed by ministers from the different member states meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday (25 June) tightens sulphur and nitrogen emissions as well as the release of dust particles, asbestos and heavy metals into the environment.

Installations must meet the fresh emissions standards set by the member states by 2016, although countries may choose to apply the restrictions as late as the end of 2020.

New plants must adhere to the rules by 2012, however.

On the one side, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany and the Netherlands were opposed countries being able to delay implementation to the new rules, which consolidate and strengthen seven separate pieces of legislation, but a bloc combining Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and the UK won the day.

The pollution curbs are expected to prevent 13,000 premature deaths annually that are related to industrial emissions, saving healthcare systems an estimated €7-28 billion.

"It provides a high level of protection for the environment and builds on the integrated pollution control that the UK pioneered," UK environment minister Hilary Benn said.

"Ultimately it is for each operator to ensure that society and the environment benefit," he added.

But the European Environment Bureau, a coalition of local environmental groups across Europe, said that the ministers had taken a "middle ground" compromise position from the Czech Republic, currently at the helm of the EU's six-month rotating presidency, which was weaker than the European Commission's original proposals, and weakened them still further.

"We are appalled by the minimalist approach taken by certain member states led by the UK and Poland," said Christian Schaible, of the group.

"Shouldn't environment ministers be more concerned about ensuring better health and environmental conditions for its citizens rather than securing additional profits for operators by prolonging the period during which underperforming plants can continue being heavy polluters?"

The industrial emissions directive must now be approved by the European Parliament, a process that will take many months.

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