ClientEarth, politicians and campaigners also react to government’s response to EAC select committee report
Environmental lawyer organisation ClientEarth has announced that its case against the government over its failure to meet EU air pollution limits will be heard by the UK Supreme Court on April 16 2015.
It follows the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) November 2014 ruling, in a case brought by ClientEarth, that the UK government can be ordered by national courts to draw up a plan to meet EU nitrogen dioxide limit values as soon as possible (see airqualitynew.com story).
That landmark ruling established that it is up to the UK Supreme Court to take ‘any necessary measure’ to ensure that Defra establishes a plan to meet air quality deadlines in EU Directives – where they have been missed – as soon as possible.
As such, the case has now been passed back to the UK Supreme Court, which will hear the case on April 16, after which it will make a final ruling.
The final court date was revealed by ClientEarth as it reacted to the government’s formal response yesterday (March 1) to the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC)’s report on air pollution in the UK (see air qualitynews.com story).
In its response, the government rejected the EAC’s recommendations for air quality obligations in planning rules, a diesel vehicle scrappage scheme, diesel tax changes and an independent public inquiry into air pollution.
However, Defra said a national low emission zone (LEZ) framework and diesel vehicle scrappage policies could be included in it Air Quality plans, which are to be submitted to the European Commission by the end of 2015 as part of EU legal obligations over NO2 limits.
Under current government plans, the UK is not expected to meet these legal limits for nitrogen dioxide in three zones – Greater London, West Midlands and West Yorkshire urban areas – until after 2030. This is 20 years later than the original EU legal deadline.
ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews said the legal case against Defra was very relevant to the government’s EAC response yesterday, which he described as “depressingly familiarâ€?.
He said: “They will have to do better than this when our case returns to the Supreme Court on 16 April, or face another embarrassing defeat.â€?
One of the key EAC recommendations rejected by the government yesterday was to establish an independent public inquiry into air pollution in the UK.
However, Labour MP John McDonnell MP, who wrote to the EAC in November of behalf of 25 MPs and Peers on the issue, said he was “appalled at the government’s continued failure to actâ€? on air pollution.
He said: “Given existing policies to tackle air pollution are having no effect we now urgently need an inquiry into how we can tackle the mounting air pollution crisis.â€?
Dave Davies of the Campaign for Air Pollution Public Inquiry added that the government’s refusal to hold an inquiry was “outrageousâ€? as UK air quality strategies “have failed and continue to do soâ€?.
He said: “The government may eventually realise that voters will be reacting to their decisions on failed Air Quality strategies in May’s General Election.â€?
Green Party MEP for South East England, Keith Taylor, also voiced his dissatisfaction with the government’s EAC response, which he said “fails to seriously address the real crisis levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter that are killing people and shortening lives.â€?
Mr Taylor added: “In a combination of ignoring the questions posed by MPs and medical experts and by pretending there is no problem, the official response to the EAC gives tokenism a bad name. More resources and the political will to make the air we breathe better is what’s urgently needed.â€?
Elsewhere, Friends of the Earth London campaigner Jenny Bates welcomed the government’s “considerationâ€? of a national LEZ framework, but criticized the rejection of policies on diesel vehicle tax, which she said would “just delay compliance with EU lawâ€?.
She said: “The Government still hasn’t grasped the requirement to urgently tackle deadly air pollution. It must implement all possible measures, and avoid worsening air pollution, so that legal limits are met in the shortest time possible.â€?