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Commission seeking modified EU air quality proposals

Clean Air Package is to be dropped in current form as NEC Directive proposals have proved “controversialâ€?

EU policy proposals for more stringent air quality limits in Member States have been dropped from the European Commission’s 2015 workplan agenda in their current form, Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans announced this afternoon (December 16).

Speaking in the European Parliament today to outline the policy agenda for next year, Mr Timmermans described proposals to introduce more stringent limits on certain air pollutants in the National Emissions Ceiling (NEC) Directive as “controversialâ€?.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans made the announcement in Brussels today (December 16)

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans made the announcement in Brussels today (December 16)

He explained that agreement between the European Parliament and the European Council would be hard to reach over the Clean Air Package, and the Commission would therefore bring forward “modified proposalsâ€? to “bridge this gap by better reflecting synergies with the energy and climate package and by reducing administrative burdenâ€?.

Regarding the focus on tackling air pollution at source in the Clean Air Package, Mr Timmermans commented that “there are good prospects that the medium-sized combustion plants proposal will be adopted soon, closing the unacceptable gaps in our source legislationâ€?.

Speaking in Brussels today, Mr Timmermans said: “The proposal on National Emission Ceilings has proved more controversial and there is a gap emerging between what the Parliament and the Council might view as an acceptable outcome. We will bring forward, in the course of the ongoing negotiations, modified proposals which we hope can help bridge this gap by better reflecting synergies with the energy and climate package and by reducing administrative burden. We are optimistic that negotiations will be a success and agreement can be reached.

“And I say this with all stress: we are not compromising on the goals we want to attain. We are looking critically at the methods we can use to bring parties together so that we have conclusion that actually can be implemented soon so that we can reach cleaner air in the EU.â€?

The announcement follows leaked documents seen last week (December 11) by airqualitynews.com, which first revealed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s intention to drop the Clean Air Package from the 2015 workplan and make amendments to the proposals in future (see airqualitynews.com story).

This had led to UK politicians and campaigners from across the political divide urging against dropping the Clean Air Package, with the Environmental Audit Committee even writing to President Juncker and UK Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday (see airqualitynews.com story).

It is understood that UK environment secretary Elizabeth Truss MP is currently in Brussels, but Defra has yet to comment on the Commission’s announcement.

Response

Former Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik – under whom the Clean Air Package was developed and announced in December 2013 – had voiced his support for the package this morning, commenting: “Air pollution causes over 400,000 premature deaths in Europe every year. That’s 15 times more than traffic accidents. Is that ok for you?â€?

The subsequent announcement this afternoon has drawn strong reaction from UK politicians and campaigners.

The European Environment Bureau (EEB) said that the “’sustainability’ credentials of Timmermans have hit rock bottom as he axes clean air and circular economy packagesâ€?, describing it as a “bad day for Europeâ€?.

ClientEarth air quality lawyer Alan Andrews described the withdrawal of proposals for a more stringent National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive as a “public health disasterâ€?.

Green MEP for South East England, Keith Taylor, said the Commission’s decision to drop the air quality proposals as “shameful and unconvincingâ€?.

Also reacting to the news this afternoon, Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder said: “The Commission has backed down from scrapping environmental proposals entirely, but we must now prevent them from being watered down.

“The transition to a greener, cleaner economy will not only protect our environment – it will spur innovation and create long-lasting jobs.  European citizens and MEPs must keep up the pressure on the Commission to ensure opportunities for green growth are seized with both hands.â€?

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