Guidance aims to clarify decisions on IPPC pollution standards

Official decisions on which emission standards and technologies represent the "best available techniques" (BAT) under the integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) regime should be made more transparent under draft EU guidance.1

At present, EU-wide guidance on what constitutes BAT is drawn up by the IPPC Bureau in Seville. So far, 15 so-called "BREFs" have been finished, covering sectors such as steel, cement, tanning and large volume organic chemicals. Regulators in each Member State must have regard to their recommendations in setting permit.

The Bureau has now issued a draft BREF dealing with economics and cross-media effects - essentially a manual setting out how BAT should be determined, with a proposed methodology for analysing the costs and benefits of abatement techniques. Its main purpose appears to be to inform the Bureau's own work on developing sectoral standards, but it may also be used by individual operators and regulators.

The draft BREF could help make the Bureau's decisions on BAT more rigorous and transparent. This is particularly important in contentious cases where established techniques are being weighed against emerging ones, and where the Bureau's recommendations may require significant investment by industry.

In many cases, it is fairly obvious what BAT is likely to be. The BREF says that even its "simplified" methodology "will still be an onerous process and should not be considered unless there is genuine disagreement." The eventual decision will still be a matter for "expert judgment", but with the methodology offering a more transparent justification.

So far there have been several serious disagreements, notably over techniques to control emissions of nitrogen oxides from cement kilns. Technical experts were split over whether selective catalytic reduction (SCR), which can reduce NOX emissions to 100-200mg/m3, should be considered BAT (ENDS Report 305, pp 47-48 ). The issue will be revisited as the Bureau starts the process to revise BREFs (ENDS Report 340, p 58 ) - and the new methodology may play an important role.

The Environment Agency had a strong input into the draft BREF, and the proposed methodology is influenced by the Agency's own H1 appraisal methodology. Indeed, the Agency submitted a case study to illustrate the BREF's approach (see "Assessing BAT in practice" ).

The H1 methodology is intended for use by operators to determine BAT at specific sites, taking account of local environmental quality (ENDS Report 322, p 34 ). The UK is the only Member State to have such a methodology specifically designed for integrated pollution control. The BREF's approach is more generic and takes no account of variation in background pollution levels.

The methodology consists of:

  • Cross-media assessment of techniques: The initial step is to identify the range of potential techniques and establish an inventory of emissions associated with each. The user can then calculate the impacts of each option according to seven themes, including toxicity, global warming and acidification, which are thought to give "comprehensive coverage" of the main environmental effects. However, the Bureau acknowledges that some pollutants of concern may not be fully covered.

    In contrast, the Agency's H1 approach compares the installation's contribution to pollution levels with numerical benchmarks derived from environmental quality standards. The BREF takes a cruder, macro-level approach.

  • Costing and evaluating options: The BREF then outlines how to cost each option and present the outcome as the cost per tonne of pollutant abated. The costs and benefits of pollution control can also be related to the environmental costs in order to help decide whether a technique is worthwhile. The European Commission has derived data on the external costs of a few air pollutants such as NOX.

    ENDS understands there was much disagreement within the working group over whether to use environmental economics techniques. Many participants expressed concerns over the assumptions and wide uncertainties involved.

  • Economic viability: The BREF says that an assessment of whether a technique is affordable by a sector should only take place where there is concern that it might jeopardise the sector's viability. The burden of proof rests on the industry in question. The assessment will need to consider whether the industry can absorb the extra costs or pass them on to customers.

    The BREF adds that technical working groups should also consider the speed of implementation - a "critical issue" for industry. If a sector's viability will not be undermined but concerns still remain over the economic impact, a further option may be to "ease" the pace of implementation. This issue has already provoked disagreement between the UK and the Commission (ENDS Report 345, p 47 ).

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