A push for cleaner industry

The new Industrial Emissions directive received its first reading in the European Parliament in March, and the Council position is expected at the end of June.

The Industrial Emissions (IE) directive revises the existing directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC), and integrates it with six sector directives – the Large Combustion Plant (LCP), Waste Incineration and Solvent Emissions directives together with three Titanium Dioxide directives.    IPPC is the key instrument of EU industrial policy relating to the environment, and it covers a wide range of industrial and agricultural activities. The IPPC directive itself is basically a framework directive in that it sets out the principles for applying IPPC but does not set any controls. Instead, these are set at the very local level of each individual installation, where account can be taken of local technical, environmental and geographical factors.

These local controls are set as Best Available Techniques (BAT) conditions which, put very simply, means that the operator has to use the best way of protecting the environment that can be economically justified. These BAT conditions are set out in legally binding permits for each individual installation. International guidance is provided by BAT Reference Documents (BREFs), which set benchmark BAT standards for each industrial sector and some cross-sectoral issues, eg. energy efficiency. However, the BREFs are not legally binding.    IPPC therefore represents a combination of EU controls and local flexibility, underpinned for some industrial sectors by legally binding emission limit values (ELVs) set out in the sector directives. These sector directive ELVs provide minimum standards below which the determination of site-specific BAT may not fall, and the inclusion of the LCP directive in the revision ensures intense political interest at EU level.

Large combustion plants have been identified as key to the EU meeting its 2020 targets for the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution – emissions of SO2 and NOx need to be cut by 50 per cent to meet VLAS 2002/fotol ia A push for cleaner industry The new Industrial Emissions directive received its first reading in the European Parliament in March, and the Council position is expected at the end of June. And the winner is this target, and LCPs contribute over 90 per cent of these emissions1. The existing LCP directive ELVs are particularly lenient compared to the benchmark standards judged to be reasonable by the technical working group that produced the LCP BREF. The IE(IPPC) directive therefore proposes tightening them up, generally to the level of the least strict end of the BREF BAT standard range.    This has prompted intense support from some parties for derogations from these legally binding minimum standards for LCPs eg. for plants with an agreed limited remaining life. There are also intense negotiations for a continued National Emission Reduction Plan (NERP) facility, whereby compliance is assessed across a whole sector or part sector within a member state, rather than on a plant-by-plant basis. Neither of these derogations is included in the Commission’s proposal, and they were narrowly defeated in the first plenary vote in the Parliament. However, they form a key part of the evolving Council position. Similarly, a defeated derogation for high-sulphur fuels, aimed particularly at lignite, is re-emerging in the Council position.

The Commission proposed to additionally clean up the combustion sector by including plants in the 20–50 megawatts thermal (MWth) capacity range, a move which would align the Industrial Emissions directive with the Greenhouse Gas Trading directive. The Parliament supported this. The Parliament also supported the extension of the safety net provided by the existing sector directives to other industrial sectors. This was proposed by the Parliament’s rapporteur, Holger Krahmer, but opposed by the Commission on the grounds that it would be impractical to produce sector directives for all industrial sectors. A scoping study by NGOs suggested that it was possible to identify additional sectors for which the time and expense of providing a safety net of minimum legally binding standards could be justified in terms of environmental impact. They therefore welcomed the Parliament’s support for extending this.

The revision of IPPC also seeks to strengthen the role of the BREFs and limit the granting of derogations from those BREFs. The Commission proposes that the BREFs should be the reference point for determining site-specific BAT; that there should be a public justification for any derogations from the BREFs; and that the Commission may set guidance criteria as to what constitutes proper grounds for derogations. The Parliamentary vote supported all three proposals, as well as moving to maintain the quality of the BREFs by requiring that they should be reviewed at least every eight years.

This requirement to update the BREFs is translated into action at the very local level by introducing a legal time limit for the updating of permits. Both the Commission and the Parliament require this to take place within four years, but the Parliament voted to set the clock ticking after publication of the new or revised BREF, whereas the Commission does so after its adoption.   The Parliament also supported the Commission in their official inclusion of environmental Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the Sevilla BREF process, thereby formalising what has been the practice to date. However, it went beyond the Commission’s proposal in other aspects of public involvement in permitting eg. by defining an explicit role for national environmental NGOs and by requiring report data etc to be placed on the internet.

Environmental NGOs were relieved that the Parliamentary process did not allow the potential dilution of ‘the emission levels associated with the best available techniques as described in the BAT reference documents’. There had been moves to provide ‘equivalent parameters or technical measures’ as an alternative to this, and whilst there could be a valid role for these in some situations, NGOs feared that in practice this would be exploited to downgrade the BREF BAT standards if they were allowed to replace ELVs. They therefore welcome the fact that ‘equivalent parameters or technical measures’ have been given a supplementary role, not a replacement one. A number of amendments were also defeated by the Parliament that would have diluted the Commission’s proposal to protect soil quality. The Commission’s proposal requires full remediation upon the cessation of industrial activity on the site, whilst the defeated amendments would have only required remediation to an ill-defined ‘satisfactory’ standard, which would have obviated the need for a baseline report.

With regard to inspections the Parliament strengthened the Commission’s inspection proposals by placing a legal requirement for random, unannounced inspections. It also tightened up on the frequency of inspections for plants that breach their permits (once every six months), whilst placing a less frequent requirement upon those plants that are subject to a systematic appraisal of risk based on objective and specified criteria (minimum once every 24 months).    Overall, environmentalists welcomed the results of the first parliamentary vote, whilst deploring the adoption of an amendment that will exempt process combustion plants burning non-conventional fuels that are not covered by the LCP BREF.

Intense negotiations in the Council are moving towards a final Council position, to be agreed on 25th June. Early hopes of a first reading agreement by the Czech Presidency have long since been abandoned and it is expected that final agreement on the new Industrial Emissions directive will be achieved in 2010.

Lesley James Friends of the Earth Campaigner on Acid Rain (England, Wales & N.Ireland)

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