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Jean Lambert London's Green MEP

EU Commission to look again at UK air pollution submissions – UK Green MEPs welcome announcement

The EU Environment Commissioner, Janez Potocnik, has today confirmed that he will reinvestigate the UK Government’s application for a time extension until 2011 to comply with legal limits for dangerous airborne particles (PM10).

Commissioner Potocnik was responding to a complaint submitted by air pollution campaign group, Clear Air in London, which was formally supported by Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London, and Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East [1]. The complaint also calls on Commissioner Potocnik to take legal action against the UK for breaching the annual mean and hourly limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic gas, in 17 zones of the UK’s 43 zones, including London.  The Government has failed to request time extensions for these zones to meet ‘safe’ levels of NO2, as set out in EU air quality legislation.

In his response, Commissioner Potocnik explains that the Commission will now reassess notifications submitted by the UK Government on NO2 in September and December of 2011.  These notifications fail to set out measures to bring air pollution within EU legal limits by 2015, and instead indicate that these 17 areas may not achieve the limits until 2020.  The notifications also make clear that Greater London may not achieve the limits much before 2025.

Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London said: “I am delighted by the Commissioner’s response, which confirms that the Commission is willing to take another look at the evidence submitted by the UK Government.  We know that 29,000 people die prematurely in the UK each year because of air pollution – this is more people than die, or sustain serious injuries, in road traffic accidents.  It is clear that something, somewhere, is going dramatically wrong.  Also, how selective was the Government when it submitted its notifications on these problematic areas? If it had not submitted notifications for Greater London and 16 other areas, would the Commission have been more concerned? Answers to these questions must now be provided by the UK Government.”

Keith Taylor, Green MEP for South East England said: “The European Commission must look again at the UK’s air pollution data and the government’s woefully inadequate plans to improve air quality. The government has already admitted that in 17 UK zones it may not be able to meet the EU limits until 2020 and in London they may not be met until 2025. This makes a mockery of EU law in place since 1999 and earlier which exists to protect people from breathing in dirty air which can lead to health problems and premature death. The European Commission now needs to follow through and show that there are real consequences when member states don’t comply with crucial environmental legislation.”


Notes to Editor

1. The Commissioner’s response reads as follows:

Dear Ms Lambert,

Thank you for your letter of 30th January 2012 in which you offer your support to the complaint now lodged and registered with the Commission as submitted by the Clean Air for London (CAL) group.

With regard to the first part of this complaint, you indicate that you are of the view that the United Kingdom has unlawfully obtained a time extension for PM10 emissions in London because the public was not consulted on time on the updated air quality plan.  We will now be asking the UK authorities to comment on these allegations through the EU pilot process and will inform CAL and yourself of the reply we receive.

The second part of the complaint concerns that the PM10 daily limit value has already been breached in Neasden Lane in London in 2011 and that as a result infringement action should be started.  I must clarify our approach to following up such allegations of individual breach: compliance is verified once the Commission is in receipt of the annual air quality report for 2011 which the United Kingdom is due to provide to us by 30th September 2012.  Once this has been provided we will be in a position to properly verify compliance and decide on the action that is required.

With regard to the last part of the complaint in which CAL asks the Commission to consider initiating infringement proceedings due to the fact that 17 zones were exceeding NO2 limit values in 2010 and have not requested a time extension, you will be aware that the United Kingdom has provided the Commission with information of notifications for NO2 compliance in September and December 2011.  These notifications were initially accepted by the Commission as notifications made according to Article 22 of Directive 2008/50/EC.  However, in light of concerns raised by CAL and the information arising from the national court action by Client Earth, the Commission is verifying whether it was correct to assess all notifications received from the United Kingdom, including the one covering London, in accordance with Article 22.

Once we have obtained the information and clarification sought from the United Kingdom as outlined above we will be in a position to provide you with a more substantive update.

Yours sincerely,

Janez Potocnik