Europe ‘lagging behind’ on particulate matter legislation

European Commission lawyer tells parliamentary committee that EU limits for PM10 are “less demanding” than in USA and Japan

Europe is “lagging behind” the USA and Japan on legislation to tackle particulate matter PM10, according to a European Commission environmental lawyer.

Marco Gasparinetti, principal environmental Lawyer at the European Commission, said that while European regulations and limit values for nitrogen dioxide are more closely aligned with World Health Organisation recommendations, this is “not the case for PM10”.

The Environmental Audit Committee is currently holding an inquiry into air quality in the UK

The Environmental Audit Committee is currently holding an inquiry into air quality in the UK

Mr Gasparinetti said: “On PM10 we are lagging behind the US and we are lagging behind Japan and our current limit values are less demanding.”

This he said, was why the Commission believes limit values for PM10 can be achieved by Member States before 2020.

His comments came while providing evidence via video link to a parliamentary committee inquiry into air quality in the UK earlier this month, a transcript of which was made available last week (July 23).

The Environmental Audit Committee launched its inquiry in May (see story) and held its first oral evidence session the following month (see story).

Diesel cars

Elsewhere, Mr Gasparinetti was asked by the committee whether the EU should take some of the blame for previous legislation on vehicle exhausts, which was designed to encourage the use of diesel vehicles to curb carbon emissions but is now generally thought to have had adverse impacts on air quality.

He responded: “Absolutely. That is a very fair point and we fully take part of the blame, if I may say, concerning diesel passenger cars.”

However, explaining that the biggest air quality problems derived from congested areas rather than free-flowing roads, he added that Member States “should also understand that part of the problem is the mobility policy that they have or have not introduced”.

Mr Gasparinetti explained: “If there are millions of cars in the same street, they will not give the same emissions as the very same cars driving in normal conditions. In London there is a congestion charge. This has created social revenues for public authorities and we are confident that these revenues can be used also to improve public transport.”

Asked whether the Commission should be working more closely with the motor industry to try to tackle air pollution, the environmental lawyer commented: “We must be careful not to overdo it because when we overdo it we have political parties in several Member States who would say ‘this is not your business; Brussels should stay out of it’, but of course we also have duties.”

Legal action

During a short evidence hearing, which was hampered by technical issues with the video link, Mr Gasparinetti briefly spoke about the EU’s legal action against the UK government over its failure to meet obligations for nitrogen dioxide.

He said: “Cearly when we have a ruling of the Supreme Court saying there is a breach of EU law, it is our duty to step in and there was absolutely no alternative. If we had not done it, we would certainly be criticised and also possibly liable for not taking action.
The UK’s is one of 17 ongoing cases being taken by the EU against Member States over infringement of air quality limits.

Mr Gasparinetti added: “The limit values have been known since 1999 and there is no surprise to Member States if we start infringement proceedings. This is our duty under the treaty. NO2 is not an exception.”


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