Commission scrutinizes air quality derogations

The EU Commission has approved time extensions for 19 air quality zones, but raised objections to 75 other proposed exemptions.

On 2nd July the European Commission adopted nine decisions addressed to Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, and Spain concerning temporary exemptions from the EU’s air quality standards for fine particles (PM10).

According to EU’s air quality legislation, the PM10 limit values should have been achieved in all member states by 2005, but the 2008 air quality directive (2008/50/EC) opens the way for member states, under strict conditions and for specific parts of the country, to extend the time for meeting the PM10 limits until June 2011, subject to approval by the Commission.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Air pollution from PM10 has serious impacts on human health and compliance with the standards must be our priority. Several member states failed to comply with the deadline of 2005 for meeting the standards and are still not in compliance. The Commission therefore expects member states to clearly demonstrate that they are doing their utmost, in the interests of their citizens, to comply with the EU standards in the shortest possible time.”

In its decisions, the Commission approved time extensions until June 2011 for 19 air quality zones in Austria, Germany and Hungary, but raised objections to the other 75 proposed exemptions.

For those remaining 75 zones, the Commission considered that the conditions had not been met, in many cases because insufficient data had been provided or because the measures outlined in the air quality plans submitted do not demonstrate that the standards will be met at the end of the exemption period.

Member states have an opportunity to re-notify for zones where the Commission has raised objections if they provide new information to demonstrate fulfilment of the conditions.

The conditions for assessment of national notifications for time extensions can be summarised as follows:

  • All appropriate measures must have been taken before the initial attainment date to achieve compliance, i.e. before 2005 in the case of PM10.
  • The cause of the exceedances must be due to one or more of the following factors: transboundary air pollution from other countries; adverse climatic conditions; or site-specific characteristics affecting how pollution is dispersed.
  • Compliance must be achieved by the expiry of the exemption period (June 2011 for PM10). For each air quality zone an air quality plan must be prepared setting out the planned measures to ensure compliance.

Following notification from a member state, the Commission has nine months within which to raise objections, otherwise the exemption is deemed to have been approved. If objections are raised and the limit values continue to be exceeded, enforcement action will be taken.

In January 2009, infringement proceedings were launched against ten member states – Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Spain, and the UK – for failing to comply with PM10 limit values.

In April 2009 the Netherlands was the first country to have a request for extensions approved by the Commission, which then agreed to an exemption from the PM10 limit values in all Dutch air quality zones, as well as the postponement of the NO2 limit values until 2015, except for one zone where the extension was set to apply until end 2012.

Decisions on derogation requests from eight countries – Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, and the UK – are expected from the Commission before the end of the year.

Christer Ågren

Note: EU air quality legislation sets binding limit values and/or indicative target values for the maximum permitted concentrations of certain air pollutants. There are two binding air quality limit values for particulate matter (PM10) based on daily and annual average concentrations, respectively. These entered into force on 1 January 2005. The air quality directive 2008/50/EC entered into force in 2008 and allows member states to notify time extensions for PM10, NO2 and benzene. During the time extension period the limit values continue to apply plus a margin of tolerance. For more information:

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