Industrial emissions control under review

The European Commission received a setback to its plans to fast-track radical reform of the integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) Directive when industry bodies and NGOs recently warned it to wait until the regime is fully implemented. But the Commission believes the concept of ‘best available techniques’ is being weakened by regulators using emission limits from other Directives by default. James Richens reports

Few Directives are less prescriptive than that on IPPC (see box). It establishes only the basic principles of the regime - the most important being that companies should protect the environment by using best available techniques (BAT) to control polluting releases - and allows members states considerable leeway to deliver this goal.

But this flexibility is also a flaw. A current review of the Directive has found some member states are failing to implement IPPC effectively. So it is ironic that the review, which has been caught up in the ‘better regulation’ agenda to reduce the perceived burden on industry, may lead to its provisions becoming more prescriptive.

Speaking at a recent conference in Brussels on the review, the head of the Commission’s Environment Directorate, Mogens Peter Carl, gave a blunt assessment: there are "serious shortcomings" in the Directive’s implementation, with some member states failing to require sites to use BAT to control pollution.

This, he said, threatens to undermine progress on environmental protection. In particular, sites must make further significant cuts in pollution to achieve the EU air quality strategy. By 2020, industry must reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide by 30%, nitrogen oxides by 24% and volatile organic compounds by 17%. The failure also threatens to hamper the uptake of innovative cleaner production and abatement technology and distort competition.

Poor quality permits

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