The EU indulges the largest industrial polluters with new emissions rules

On 28 November, the EU institutions reached a frustrating final agreement on the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), a crucial piece of legislation regulating environmental and health impacts from the most polluting industrial activities. Instead of progressing towards EU promises of zero pollution, climate neutrality and circular economy, the new IED maintains protection for the polluting status quo.

The final agreement to revise the EU’s flagship regulation to prevent pollution from more than 50,000 industrial installations in Europe, the IED, doesn’t live up to the Green Deal goals. Leaving industrial cattle farms out of the scope, pushing industry transformation delays over decades and failing to provide protection to people affected by illegal pollution, undermines the potential of a regulation that should be a shield for citizens, not polluters.

Christian Schaible, Head of Zero Pollution Industry, European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said: 

“This is a bitter example of how EU decision-makers are disconnected from public interests and unwilling to translate the EU Green Deal into clear rules. The main result is keeping business as usual for the next decade. We can even wonder if the review process will contribute to Europe’s zero pollution goals. More resources could have instead been spent on enforcement actions fixing the pollution complacent member states’ permit culture.”      

Bellinda Bartolucci, Senior Legal Expert, ClientEarth, said:

“The IED compensation right is the first signal in EU environmental legislation calling for justice for people made sick by illegal pollution. But shockingly, protection of people’s health seems to have become collateral damage in the political negotiations: A combination of misleading claims and prioritising lawbreakers over peoples’ health by the European Parliament and Council have led to considerable shortcomings in this right. If a company is breaking the law it must understand that there will be consequences – and this is only fair to companies actually complying.”

Boris Jankowiak, Steel Transformation Policy Coordinator, Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, said:

“It is unacceptable that laws designed to drive the transformation of heavy industries still fail to restore the missing link between climate, resources and pollution. The failure of policy-makers last night to address these three critical areas in the revised Industrial Emissions Directive, leaves substantial aspects of the Green Deal unfulfilled. The EU’s delay in transforming the long-standing assets of its most polluting industries has cost us valuable time, jeopardising the objectives of the Green Deal.”

Livestock farms left unaddressed

The final IED agreement fails to address one of the polluting industrial activities in Europe: industrial livestock farms. The exclusion of cattle from the directive’s scope is a major setback, with the only possibility for change resting on a mere revision clause in the future. At the same time, the new IED goes backwards on rules for pigs and poultry industrial farming, excluding crucial elements such as permit and reporting systems, minimal inspection frequencies or monitoring water and soil protection. Industrial animal farming has potentially serious impacts on the local environment, such as eutrophication, and on human health, which is why monitoring is essential. Concrete measures to abate ammonia and methane and proper manure management for the pigs and poultry livestock sector, are not set to take effect until after 2030, leaving the environment, people, farms, and farmers vulnerable.

Trading off people’s health 

The EU also fell short of expectations when it comes to the health protection of EU citizens. It is well known that pollution resulting from industrial activities can cost the economy billions through health-related issues. While the EU did agree on a new compensation right for the first time in EU environmental law, trade-offs and misleading claims weakened the right to protect citizens from illegal pollution. In particular, vulnerable victims suffering from cancer or heart diseases are stripped of the opportunity to be represented by civil society organisations in complex court proceedings.  

Climate action delayed beyond 2028

EU negotiators also missed the opportunity to integrate greenhouse gas emissions reduction at source and climate change mitigation directly into the IED.  Decarbonisation action is kicked down the road to future reviews of sector-specific reference documents, closing the door to binding energy efficiency requirements and delaying the possible inclusion of CO2 emission limit values in permits of all industrial installations to 2028. While the transformation plans in the final compromise are a necessary step, they will need to meet expectations and demonstrate a clear direction for heavy industry installations to contribute concretely to the 2050 EU targets.

Business as usual for the next decade

Other decisions also risk throwing the EU’s environmental goals beyond their target dates. The maximum 12-year transition period to adapt to lower pollution limits allows Member-States’ authorities to continue establishing lenient emission limits, resulting in business as usual until at least 2036, with adverse impacts on people’s health, the environment and the public finances (€103 billion in taxpayer money per year). Furthermore, with the exception of water, resource efficiency standards are established as merely indicative, risking overruling in loosely determined crisis situations and undermining the objective of the IED to achieve a high level of environmental protection.

Mixed signals on transparency

On a positive note, EU co-legislators introduce a requirement for member states to develop an electronic permit system (although delayed to 2035), enabling public participation and access to information. However, civil society organisations remain excluded from what can be considered ‘confidential business information’, a loophole that has been used in the past to undermine their participation in the negotiations of IED pollution standards. This decision not only disregards the fact that citizens’ organisations are not commercial competitors, but also ignores industry voices aligned with the duty of public accountability.

The provisional political deal between co-legislators is now pending formal adoption by both institutions.


The EU indulges the largest industrial polluters with new emissions rules
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