Industrial emissions plan passes its first milestone

Plans to replace the EU’s industrial pollution prevention and control Directive with an industrial emissions Directive were approved by a European Parliament committee in January. But the UK government and power industry fear plans threaten energy security.

Negotiations reached an important stage in January, as the European Parliament’s Environment Committee backed proposals for sector-specific emission limits.

The limits would constrain member states’ ability to set controls on emissions less stringent than those recommended in EU reference documents (BREFs) (ENDS Report 401, pp 43-45 ). These provide guidance on what constitutes best available techniques (BAT) to control emissions and are currently non-statutory.

The sectoral limits, described as a "European safety net" by German rapporteur Holger Krahmer, would allow some leeway over emissions associated with BAT. Reasons for setting permit conditions deviating from the new rules would have to be justified in a publicly available cost-benefit assessment.

The draft industrial emissions Directive (IED) will succeed the EU’s current industrial pollution prevention and control (IPPC) regime. It will also take in Directives on large combustion plant (LCP), waste incineration, solvent emissions and the production of titanium dioxide.

European Environment Bureau policy officer Christian Schaible said that the safety net will "create environmental and health protection for all European citizens as well as a consistent, level playing field for industry."

However, this position was criticised by a senior official at the Environment Agency as "a recipe for stagnation, rather than the creation of minimum standards". Competent authorities could view the limits as default permit conditions, disregarding what forms BAT at individual installations, he believes.

Nevertheless, the emission limits set by the waste incineration Directive suggest that the approach can drive up performance, as shown by reduced particulate and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions in the cement sector (ENDS Report 370, pp 15-16 ).

The official was disappointed by the environment committee’s rejection of limits on CO2 emissions from large combustion plant. The amendment fell on a technicality.

The standard could have acted as a back-up to the EU emissions trading scheme without the worries of low allowance prices, which have encouraged coal combustion (ENDS Report 408, p 7 ).

The MEPs backed proposals to reduce the IPPC threshold of 50MW of heat input for combustion plant to 20MW. Plants that operate up to 500 hours a year would be excluded.

The current form of the LCP Directive allows plants that ‘opted out’ of the Directive’s controls to run without emission limits for NOx until the end of 2015 in return for restricted running hours. The committee rejected requests from many member states to extend this time limit, again with limited running hours.

The draft Directive would force all LCPs to install selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology by 2016 or shut down, removing the regime’s current flexibility. The Environment Agency persisted in not declaring SCR as BAT (ENDS Report 388, pp 26-29 ). The loophole partly explains why the UK is the largest NOx emitter in the EU (ENDS Report 408, p 55 ).

The UK electricity industry and the government are concerned the proposals would have major implications for the security of supply and are lobbying for derogations. According to data obtained by sustainable development group E3G, the plans would force 13 UK power stations, or 15% of generating capacity, to close by the end of 2015 (see table).

Friends of the Earth has noted that the 15% reduction in capacity should be offset if the UK meets its renewable energy targets. The governmental view on the Directive may therefore been seen to question how serious it is about meeting the targets.

The committee agreed to decrease the Commission’s proposed yearly inspection visits to 18 months. However, sites with poor compliance histories would be inspected more frequently.

LACORS director of policy Mark du Val told ENDS: "We have some concerns about prescribing how inspection frequencies should be varied. The text will limit the ability of member states to set proportionate inspection frequencies that are linked to both environmental impact and operator performance."

The draft Directive raised opposition in the farming sector, which is lobbying for exemptions. The current version would bring in many heated commercial greenhouses and farms with feed mills, alongside more pig and poultry farms. The changes would come not long after the pig and poultry sectors were phased into IPPC control in 2007 (ENDS Report 394, p 17 ).

EU environment ministers are due to debate the Directive on 2 March, a week before the full European Parliament is due to vote on it. They are expected to revisit the question of extending the LCP closure deadline.

This tight schedule has been criticised by some MEPs as not allowing enough time for proper debate. But if the Directive fails to be approved on these dates, further progress will have to wait until the European Parliament reconvenes in September, after the June elections.

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