Draft EU air quality rules weaker than China's

5th March 2015

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Lucy Smith

Europe's coal plants will be allowed to emit more pollutants than their counterparts in China after lobbying by the energy industry, research by Greenpeace shows.

New EU pollution limits for coal-fired power plants are currently being discussed. The environmental NGO claims in a report that the member state delegations in charge of drafting the rules are dominated by industry representatives.

The technical working group on the regulations has 352 members, comprising representatives from member states, industries and NGOs. Of these, 137 are formal industry representatives. In addition, 46 of those described as being part of government delegations are directly employed by business.

The UK delegation comprises nine people, including individuals employed by RWE, EDF and E.ON, which operate coal-fired power station, and the Stanlow oil refinery.

In the minutes of a Whitehall meeting obtained by Greenpeace through a freedom of information request, an official confirms that the UK’s position on the new rules had been agreed in the industry-dominated working group, describing it as a “consensus of opinion within the UK”.

Greenpeace also claims to have found evidence that the UK government supports exemptions for some British coal plants, which had been demanded by the power industry. A government official is quoted as dismissing tougher restrictions on mercury pollution as “not cost beneficial” based on an industry-led investigation.

Greenpeace also says some country representatives, including environment agencies, used statements directly copied from industry representatives in their own declarations.

Proposed emissions standards are legally required to be use best available techniques as a minimum. However, as a result of industry interference, they are actually lower than standards set by China, the US and Japan, Greenpeace argues.

For example, the proposed EU limit for nitrogen oxides (NOx) is 180 mg/Nm³ for large existing plants, and 100 mg/Nm³ for new plants. By comparison, China is asking for NOx emissions to be no more than 100 mg/Nm³ for existing plants, and 50 mg/Nm³ for new plants.

The proposed EU limits would allow many plants to avoid the installation of selective catalytic reduction (SCR), the most effective way to control NOx emissions, Greenpeace claims.

The NGO says the EU cannot argue its proposal is based on best available technology because several existing coal-fired power plants in Europe have Nox emission levels that are less than half of those required by the proposed standard.

Lawrence Carter, Greenpeace UK energy campaigner, said: “This is a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse. By leaving the big polluters to write new air pollution rules, EU and UK ministers are guilty of a collective dereliction of duty.”

The revelations come as a study in Environmental Research journal revealed that 14 days of poor air quality in the UK in 2014 caused 14,000 extra visits to doctors and hospitals.

Real time monitoring of public health during two periods of high air pollution in March and April 2014 showed that there were an estimated 3,500 extra healthcare visits for acute respiratory symptoms and approximately 500 for severe asthma.

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