EU approves stricter limits on pollutants from large power plants

EU Member States approved on Friday (April 28th) new limits to the pollutants European large power plants are allowed to emit. As reported by Reuters and other environmental and health non-governmental groups, the decision imposes stricter caps on emissions of some toxic pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide  (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM) and, for the first time, mercury (Hg) from industrial combustion plants across EU.

The decision was taken by a special committee, created under the Article 75 of the Directive on industrial emissions (IED), which approved a new reference document on Best Available Techniques for large combustion plants (the so-called LCP-BREF). Overall, 2,900 EU’s combustion plants with rated thermal input  exceeding  50 MW, will be affected by the new rule, to be met by 2021. Among them also coal-fired power stations and peat as well as oil and gas power plants.

The Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) entered into force in 2011 and represents  the main EU instrument to regulate emissions from industrial installations, including power plants.

Enrico Brivio, spokesman for the European Commission commented the deal saying that “Air pollution is the prime environmental cause of premature death in the European Union”  and added that “large combustion plants account for a big share of air pollutant emissions across the EU: 46% of sulphur dioxide, 18% of nitrogen oxide, 39% of mercury and 4% of dust.”

The debate anticipating the vote saw Bulgaria, more than others, strongly opposing the new measures in the fear these would require coal plants to be phased out. According to Euractiv, about a half of Bulgaria’s energy supply comes from coal power plants that rely on state-owned lignite mines.

On the contrary, environmental groups applauded to the new standards that finally managed to fix the many exemptions within the IED, which have allowed EU’s coal plants to exceed limits for harmful pollutants.

“With this agreement, national governments will be creating large benefits for the health of many Europeans”, said Julia Gogolewska of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). “We welcome the fact that EU Governments have finally taken responsibility and agreed to set new pollution limits to protect their citizens and environment” commented Joanna Flisowska, Coal Policy Coordinator at Climate Action Network (CAN Europe).

(Image: Power plant churns steam. Credit: Rich/Flickr)