The clock is ticking: new rules set deadline for dirty plants

Steam or pollution coming from smoke stack in power plant against blue skies.

The European Commission has today published new standards for Europe’s most polluting power plants, including many large coal-fired power stations. Plants now have four years to meet the new standards, but more than 80% of coal capacity expected to still be online in 2021 is currently polluting too much. 

The new standards include tighter rules for emissions of nitrous oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), mercury and tiny pieces of harmful dust known as ‘particulate matter’ (PM). These toxic substances are linked to a host of health and environmental issues including the development of asthma in children and the polluting of Europe’s air and water.

Christian Schaible, EEB Industrial Production Manager and a member of the Technical Working Group that helped to draft the revised standards, welcomed today’s publication:

“These new requirements will help speed up the energy transition as the most polluting plants are closed. While the clock is ticking it’s up to national authorities to decide how much pollution they want to cut; the European rules are just a safety net setting out the minimum action required. Governments that want to see positive results in air quality, climate change and investments in the sustainable infrastructure of the future, must go beyond these minimum requirements.” 

An EEB report published last year calculated that the rules have the potential to prevent 20,000 premature deaths every year from coal plants alone. Because the new standards apply not just to coal power stations but to all EU large combustion plants, burning a variety of fuels, the potential health and environmental benefits will be even more significant.

The new standards, which are published in the same week as the entry into force of the Minimata Convention, set binding emission limits for mercury from coal power stations for the first time.

Notes to editors:

The new standards are set in the BAT (Best Available Techniques) Conclusions of the revised LCP BREF (Large Combustion Plants Best Available Techniques Reference Document) that was published in the Official Journal of the European Union today following a vote by Member States in April.

The Commission announced the publication in a press release last month. The EEB’s reaction to the adoption is available here.

The 80% figure cited above comes from a report on Hard Coal/Lignite Fired Power Plants in EU28 by DNV GL for the European Climate Foundation. 16 June 2017.

The potential for the new standards to reduce the negative health impacts of coal in Europe were revealed in a joint report published last October: ‘Lifting Europe’s Dark Cloud: How cutting coal saves lives’.

Check the potential impact of the new limits on coal plants in your country.

The new standards may seem much stricter, but are in fact based on what is already being achieved by other plants across Europe and around the world. Many European plants are responsible for excessive pollution because they have not been required to invest in ‘abatement’ techniques to reduce their emissions.

For more information about the LCP BREF, see Our Q&A guide: What is the LCP BREF?

The EEB has also produced this more detailed analysis of the impact of the new rules on a variety of power plants.

For more information:

Anton Lazarus - Communications Officer - Industrial Production, European Environmental Bureau

+32 2 790 88 18