The directive updates and merges seven pieces of existing legislation, including directives on large combustion plants and integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC). The latter is aimed mainly at around 52 000 industrial and agricultural installations with a high pollution potential.

After Parliament overwhelmingly approved an agreement reached with Council, Holger Krahmer (ALDE, DE), the MEP responsible for guiding the legislation through Parliament, commented:

“After more than two years of difficult negotiations we have a compromise that will help to improve the implementation of the directive. Compared to the current situation, this offers more clarity and a better chance of a level playing field across Europe on environmental requirements for industrial installations.”

More time for some power stations

Stricter limits on NOx, SOx and particulates will be introduced from 2016. Member states can use ‘transitional national plans’ to allow large combustion plants (including fossil fuel power stations) up to July 2020 to meet the rules. (Some older plants may be opted out – they will not have to meet the targets, as long as they close by the end of 2023 or 17 500 operating hours after 2016, whichever happens first). Newer power stations must still meet the 2012 deadline that applies to them.

Holger Krahmer added: “It is a European tragedy that a number of outdated coal-fired power plants will be allowed to pollute for another decade. This is also grossly unfair on the member states that took early action to meet the requirements.”

Optimising environmental performance

To receive a permit, installations covered by IPPC rules must apply ‘best available technnology’ to optimise their all-round environmental performance. Emissions to air, soil or water, as well as noise and safety are all considered.

Member states will be allowed some leeway to ease the implementation of the normal rules, as long as a high standard of overall environmental protection is maintained. However, at the insistence of MEPs, it must also be proved that costs would be disproportionate compared to environmental benefits, due to technical reasons or local circumstances. Assessments must be provided to ensure the rules are not being circumvented without good justification.

Next steps

Parliament has approved the bill’s second reading agreement but the legislation will not be enacted until the European Council officially rubber stamps the text, after which member states will be required to apply the directive in their national legislation.