Flexibilities threaten emission cuts from MCPs

EU Parliament in action. Photo: © Elnur - Fotolia.com

Member states want to water down proposed new emission standards for medium-sized combustion plants, and there is now a risk that the European Parliament will push for even more exemptions.

Medium-sized combustion plants (MCP) should be given more lenient air pollution emission standards and extended compliance deadlines, according to the European Parliament’s rapporteur, Andrzej Grzyb, Polish representative of the EPP.

A new directive to limit air pollutant emissions from combustion installations with a thermal input between 1 and 50 megawatts (MW) was proposed by the Commission as part of its air quality package from December 2013. The proposal covers nearly 143,000 MCPs now in operation in the EU, which in 2010 together emitted some 554 thousand tons (kt) of nitrogen oxides (NOx), 301 kt of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and 53 kt of particulate matter (PM).

Even though the Commission’s impact assessment showed that EU-wide application of the most stringent standards now used in member states would reduce NOx emissions from these plants by nearly 80 per cent by 2025, the proposed new directive would only deliver less than half of this reduction.

The Commission has calculated that its proposal would cost around €300 million a year between 2025 and 2030, but the health and environmental benefits would be ten times that figure.

Despite the modest ambition level of the Commission’s proposal, discussions in the Council between member states are focussing on relaxing and delaying the emission standards, and draft position papers in the Parliament are heading in the same direction.

While the Commission’s proposal imposes the same emission limit values (ELV) for all plants, independent of their capacity, Mr Grzyb wants a division into three categories with markedly less stringent ELVs applied to the smaller installations.

Mr Grzyb’s draft position also introduces a large number of derogations, including a long list of plants that would be exempted from complying with the law, including recovery boilers used by pulp industry, gas turbines on offshore platforms, refineries, crematories and reactors in the chemical industry, as well as plants in remote island locations.

The Commission’s proposal includes a derogation for peak-load plants, by which member states may exempt existing plants that do not operate for more than 500 hours per year from compliance with the ELVs. Mr Grzyb wants to significantly extend this, to 1,000 hours per year as a rolling average over a period of five years.

He further suggests toning down the Commission’s proposal to oblige member states to apply stricter ELVs to plants in zones that do not comply with mandatory EU air quality standards by making it voluntary.

Environmental groups criticised the many exemptions and weaker emissions limits, saying these called into question how useful the law will be. In a comment on the outcome of the environment ministers’ discussions in December, Christian Schaible of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said:  “Ministers seem to be more concerned with providing derogations and extra flexibility for plant operators than with reducing the number of premature deaths in the EU due to air pollution”.

Environmental and health protection organisations from across the EU have agreed a number of main priorities for improving the proposed directive, including to:

  • Set ELVs in line with the Best Available Techniques (BATs);
  • Bring forward the compliance deadlines for both new and existing plants;
  • Address all MCPs, even when they are part of a bigger installation covered by the Industrial Emissions Directive;
  • Set ELVs for other pollutants, such as mercury, formaldehyde and methane;
  • Reject the shopping list of derogations suggested by the Council.

The Parliament’s Environment Committee is scheduled to vote on the matter on 13–14 April.

Christer Ågren

Sources: ENDS Europe Daily, 17 December 2014 and 9 February 2015. NGO Position paper: Recommendations to clean up air pollution from Medium Combustion Plants (23 February 2015). 

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