Confrontation over a proposed law to cut industrial emissions looks likely

The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers - the two arms of the European Union’s legislature - appear to be heading towards a confrontation over a proposed law to further cut emissions from chemical and other plants.

The new directive, drawn up by the European Commission, aims to make more effective the EU’s existing system for giving operating permits for chemical and other plants, a key issue being the introduction of   more uniform emissions standards which would set centrally by the Commission.

And the proposed legislation could be tightened still further, after parliament’s environment committee debated 533 tabled amendments. The committee’s redrafted text now looks likely to be backed by the full parliament in the first reading of the legislation in March.

But the Council of Ministers, representing the governments of the EU member states, will almost certainly want less stringent and more flexible controls on emissions when it debates the directive in June. The revised draft will have to go back to parliament for a second reading before possibly continuing into a conciliation procedure to thrash out legislative compromises between the two bodies

BAT controls

Under the present 12-year-old system, which is part of the EU’s scheme for Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC), permits are given on the basis of Best Available Techniques (BATs), or the most cost-effective techniques for achieve high levels of environmental protection. But authorities in member states are allowed to make exceptions to take into account local environmental conditions and different plant designs.

The Commission decided to bring in new legislation because it claims the IPPC derogations are being abused. So far, only 50 per cent of chemical and other plants operate under the strictest BAT-based permits. The parliament’s environment committee wants deviations from the Commission’s minimum standards to be made even more difficult so there is less room for adapting BATs to local conditions.

’We believe that this new principle of "one size fits all" is not practical,’ says an official at the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), the chemical industry’s trade association. ’Local environment conditions and the specific technologies of installations must be taken into account if the permit system is to work properly.’

Carbon considered

The chemical industry is also concerned about possible moves by MEPs in the parliament’s plenary session in March to include plant-specific standards in the legislation for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.   These emission performance standards (EPS) - which would be another source of friction with the Council of Ministers - would initially apply only to power plants. But one worry for industry is that the limits on CO2 emissions from power generation would raise electricity prices for energy-intensive plants, such as petrochemical facilities, as well as push up the cost of ETS emission allowances.

’We think it inappropriate to have a second piece of legislation imposing limits on CO?2 emissions when the EU has only just approved regulations for a new emission trading system (ETS) for greenhouse gases,’ says the Cefic official.

But environmental groups are already pressing for stricter limits on CO2 emissions once an EPS system is introduced. ’The introduction of EPS into power plants will   mean fewer emissions from electricity generation - so more allowances available on the ETS market, which would   lower their cost for other sectors like steel, cement and chemicals,’ says Einvind Hoff, director of Bellona Europa, a Brussels-based environmental NGO. ’We want ETS limits to be tightened up once EPS is introduced in the power sector so that this doesn’t happen,’ he adds.

However, NGOs like Bellona Europa are not yet campaigning for emissions performance standards to be laid down in sectors like bulk chemicals. ’We think that the most obvious candidate for EPS to be introduced outside power generation would be the cement sector because, as with power generation, the production technologies in plants are similar,’ Mr Hoff explains. ’But it would be difficult to have EPS in petrochemicals. There are so many different production technologies that it would be too complicated.’

Sean Milmo