Cleaner air the winner after Germany fails to block new EU rules

Campaigners have welcomed the EU’s adoption of new air pollution limits that could significantly reduce toxic emissions from Europe’s dirtiest power plants. The new rules, which could save more than 20,000 lives every year by reducing pollution from coal-fired power plants alone, were narrowly voted through despite opposition from a German-led ‘unholy alliance’ of coal-burning countries. [1]

While many countries, including coal-burning Greece and the UK, welcomed the chance to embrace stricter limits, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania were criticised by environmental groups for their unprecedented attempts to block the new rules.

Welcoming today’s news, Christian Schaible, the EEB policy manager that took part in the six years of negotiations that led to the new document said: 

This is finally some good news on tackling air pollution. Tried-and-tested techniques exist to filter out or reduce harmful fumes yet the decision as to whether to use them is too often left to plant operators, who simply do whatever is cheapest. Today’s decision will now ensure that the dirtiest plants either clean up or close down.”

Responding to German opposition to the updated rules, Schaible continued:

Of course it’s shocking to see Germany join some of Europe’s most polluting countries to try to block these rules that will benefit people across the EU. European citizens deserve better and expect more from Europe’s leading economy. Germany claim to be a frontrunner when it comes to environmental protection has been seriously undermined today.

As a result of today’s vote Member States will be obliged to impose stricter limits on toxic pollutants from all 2,900 Large Combustion Plants in the EU. Stricter limits will have to be met by 2021 for emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), tiny particulate matter (PM), and for the first time, air pollution limits have been set for mercury. [2]

The rules will apply to all of Europe’s coal-fired power stations, which represent some of the biggest single point sources of these emissions, as well as to peat, oil, gas and other power plants, including offshore rigs.

More than 125,000 citizens that signed a Europe-wide petition calling on health and environment ministers to “clean up Europe’s toxic air”, which was delivered this morning in Brussels, will also welcome today’s decision. [3]

The improved limits are contained in a long-delayed technical document called ‘the revised LCP BREF’. Delays in implementing the limits on coal plants have already allowed air pollution that has caused more than €150bn in associated health costs and more than 55,000 premature deaths. [4]

Member States will now need to decide how strictly they implement the updated rules, which could require the biggest polluters to either invest in pollution abatement techniques or shut down for good.

Campaigners last week wrote to Commissioner Vella to warn against any attempts to weaken the document after reports that the German government would seek to raise the limits for its most polluting lignite plants. [5]

With the success of renewables and alternative low-carbon power sources, the investments necessary for many plants to meet the revised limits are unlikely to represent value for money.

The updated  rules will have the greatest effect in countries that are already failing to ensure their citizens are able to breathe clean air, with plants in central and Eastern Europe currently emitting far more than will be allowed in the future. The stricter NOx level for lignite plants will also provide opportunities to speed up the ‘Energiewende’ in Germany. The updated limits will have consequences for fossil fuel investments across Europe and may fatally undermine plans for new coal projects in the Balkans.

Notes to editors:

[1] See: ‘Lifting Europe’s Dark Cloud: How cutting coal saves lives‘ & country-specific factsheets for more information about the positive impact of the new limits on the EU’s 257 coal plants.


[3] ‘Clean up Europe’s toxic air‘, petition to EU Health and Environment Ministers.

[4] The EEB’s ‘Death ticker’ shows a live figure for the cost of inaction on toxic coal pollution.

[5] See: ‘Commission must not give in to pressure to protect dirty coal’.

For more information:

Anton Lazarus, Communications Officer, European Environmental Bureau

+32 2 790 88 18

Cleaner air the winner after Germany fails to block new EU rules
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