The IPPC Directive (ENDS Reports 245, pp 38-39 , and 248, pp 35-37 ) requires competent authorities to take into account any technical guidance published by the European Commission when issuing permits to industry. The guidance will take the form of "best available techniques reference documents", adding a new acronym, BREFs, to the environmental lexicon.
Work on the guidance is being co-ordinated by a new European IPPC Centre in Seville, Spain, which expects to have four technical specialists when it is fully staffed later this year. The Centre takes its marching orders from an Information Exchange Forum set up under the Directive.
The Forum, which comprises representatives of Member States, industry and non-governmental organisations, has now met twice and is expected to finalise a timetable for the preparation of BREFs for the 30 or so sectors covered by the Directive in July.
Work has already begun on BREFs for three sectors - cement and lime, iron and steel, and pulp and paper - along with a fourth "horizontal" guidance note on cooling and vacuum processes. Separate technical working groups, dominated by national officials and industry representatives, will work on each document.
Drafting of each BREF is expected to take 10-12 months. Once they are completed, they will be passed to the Information Exchange Forum for its views, and then on to the European Commission. Only when the Commission approves and publishes them will competent authorities be expected to treat them as formal guidance.
The guidance is known as "reference documents" because it is not intended to be prescriptive. Under the Directive, it is for competent authorities to decide what standards to lay down in permits, taking into account site-specific considerations and the general requirements of the Directive.
This approach continues to cause unease among some Member States, echoing disputes which were aired when the Directive was being negotiated. Some countries want uniform standards for emissions and discharges applied across the Community to avoid unequal competition, and are understood to have pressed for this again during early discussions in the Information Exchange Forum. The Directive does in fact provide for the Commission to propose harmonising legislation for specific sectors, but no such initiatives are expected at least until there is evidence of unequal standards being imposed by Member States.
The guidance will be based on information submitted by Member States and industry. The UK, Netherlands, Germany and the Scandinavian countries are understood to have been most active in providing information for the first batch of BREFs.
One of the main challenges will be to ensure that the guidance covers some of the new issues raised by the Directive - notably process energy efficiency and resource consumption. Existing standards and process literature do not cover these aspects anything like as thoroughly as releases to the environment. Some industries are endeavouring to fill the information gap. For example, the European paper industry federation, CEPE, is carrying out a survey of energy consumption by plants in the sector.
Each BREF is expected to contain general information on the sector, data on current techniques, emission levels and consumption of energy and raw materials, and an outline of "candidate" best available techniques. From the latter will be selected "reference techniques", along with an indication of the environmental performance levels which they are felt capable of achieving. The guidance will also identify promising "emerging techniques".
A pilot BREF has already been prepared for ammonia processes - and has given rise to some concern in industry. Eric Hutton of British Steel pointed out at a conference at the Society for Chemical Industry in May that no new ammonia processes are expected to be built in Europe over the next ten years, and much the same applies to the iron and steel sector. The pilot BREF, however, did not set out BAT for existing ammonia processes, but focused exclusively on new processes.
According to Mr Hutton, it is vital that future BREFs distinguish between existing and new processes - the underlying worry being that having a single BAT achievable with new processes would put pressure to upgrade existing processes to the same standards, despite the potentially high cost and practical difficulty of doing so.