Plans to limit EU medium plant emissions move forward

However, proposals criticised by environmental groups for not being strict enough and for addition of exemptions and time extensions

Plans to reduce air pollutant emissions from medium-sized combustion plants across the EU took another step forward after the European Parliament’s environment committee voted in favour of bringing in new limits yesterday (May 6) in Brussels.

EEB is calling for stricter emissions limits to be met sooner than proposed in the European Commission’s Medium Combustion Plant plans

EEB is calling for stricter emissions limits to be met sooner than proposed in the European Commission’s Medium Combustion Plant plans

The Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee voted on the draft report ‘Limitation of certain pollutants into the air from medium combustion plants’, which sets out emission limits values for facilities which burn fuel with a rated thermal output of between 1-50MW.

The pollution limits originally proposed by the European Commission have been maintained by the Parliament, and the committee will now revise and adopt the text of the draft report in plenary and seek agreement with the European Council.

However, the proposals have been criticised by environmental organisations for not being strict enough and because the Parliament committee has now added exemptions and time extensions to the plans put forward by the Commission.

According to the Parliament, the proposed limits would affect around 150,000 medium combustion plants in the EU. Such plants include boilers, heaters, engines and turbines used for electricity generation, residential heating and cooling, and heating and steam for industrial processes.

Large combustion plants are already controlled by the Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75/EU), for which stricter limits are currently being discussed at EU level. Defra has come under fire from environmental groups for allowing the involvement of industry groups in these discussions (see story).

Small combustion plants can also already be covered by Directive (1009/125/EC), but currently emissions from medium combustion plants generally not regulated at EU level.


The proposed medium combustion plant rules seek to reduce sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and dust emissions by setting limit values for new and existing installations.

The proposals also set out a “simple registration scheme” in order to “help deliver a significant part of a Member States’ emission reduction obligations and also avoid possible trade-offs between air quality and increased biomass use, which may otherwise result in increased air pollution”, the draft report states.

The draft report also notes that the limit values set out in Annexes II and III of the proposals have been amended “to avoid imposing a disproportionate burden on operators of certain plants, based on the principle cost of efficiency”.

It concludes:

“The Rapporteur believes that his proposed changes improve the possibility of a realistic implementation of the Directive, so that it can become an important instrument for the improvement of air quality in the European Union without imposing unjustified burdens on society and the economy.”


The European Environment Bureau (EEB), which represents 140 environmental organisations across Europe, said that the European Parliament “deserves credit for moving some of the compliance deadlines forward and for introducing energy efficiency requirements” in the proposals agreed yesterday.

However, it said that time extensions had been added to the rules for district heating plants and biomass installations, as well as exemptions for sectors such as the oil industry’s refineries and “offshore platforms or chemical installations using reactors”.

The EEB said such additions will “reduce the Directive’s effectiveness”, adding that in the first place the proposals are “far from challenging and nowhere near what is already technically feasible”.

In some cases, the EEB said, the limits are as much as eight times higher than the “much stricter” Dutch standards for similar-sized combustion plants.

Commenting after yesterday’s vote, EEB senior policy officer on air pollution, Louise Duprez, said:

“This is a source of pollution which, until now, has been regulated in some EU countries but not in others, so it is important that the EU addresses it. Yet providing time extensions and exemptions for combustion plants in sectors, like the oil industry or district heating plants, is shameful. Citizens are probably left wondering what the objective behind the directive actually is: limiting air pollution or reducing the impact it will have on industry?”

She added: “Despite further evidence published last week about the devastating impact of air pollution, causing over €1.4 trillion in health damages every year in Europe, the EU seems to be taking the issue rather lightly.”

Road vehicle emission limits

The EU Parliament’s environment committee also yesterday considered a Commission proposal on the reduction of pollutant emissions from road vehicles, which focuses on “areas where market and regulatory failures hinder addressing the overarching challenges of improving the EU’s air quality”.

Proposed measures include:

  • flexibility for vehicles which are close to the limit between different categories to fall within the scope of light passenger and commercial vehicles;
  • the possibility to include methane in the calculation of CO2 emissions;
  • changing the Total Hydrocarbons emission limit in order to facilitate the introduction of natural gas vehicles in to the market;
  • a specific emission limit for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which causes most air quality problems in urban areas;
  • a change of tailpipe emission limits after a cold start at low temperature, and the deletion of ammonia emission limits for spark ignition engines.

No vote was taken on the plans, but the Rapporteur disagrees both with the suggested inclusion of methane into the CO2 emissions of cars and also with the introduction of a separate nitrogen dioxide limit, according to the committee.

Related Links:

Draft report: limitation of certain pollutants into the air from medium combustion plants
Draft report: reduction of pollutant emissions from road vehicles


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