Published: Thu, May 17, 2018
Global | By Marsha Munoz

Commission gears up against air polluters, sends six countries to court

Commission gears up against air polluters, sends six countries to court

The UK and five other nations have been referred to Europe's highest court for failing to tackle illegal levels of air pollution.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will look into multiple breaches to the EU's nitrogen dioxide limits by London, Berlin, and Paris, while Italy, Hungary and Romania will be taken to court for particulate standards breach.

Environmental law firm ClientEarth said: "The European Commission's action, which could end with the United Kingdom having to pay fines, should be another strong catalyst for ministers who have failed for nearly a decade to take the necessary action".

The EU estimates that air pollution costs the bloc 20 billion euros ($24.7 billion) a year in health costs, but says this could be reduced if member states comply with agreed emissions limits.

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Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Elżbieta Bieńkowskaadded: "We will only succeed in fighting urban air pollution if the vehicle sector plays its part".

The Court of Justice ruled on Thursday (22 February) that Poland has infringed air quality laws, urging Warsaw to comply "without delay" or face fines after finding that the country has regularly exceeded fine particle limits for years.

"We will shortly build on our £3.5bn plan to tackle roadside emissions with a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy setting out a wide range of actions to reduce pollution from all sources".

Action against the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Spain has not been pursued as measures being put in place in each of the countries, "appear to be appropriate, if implemented" the Commission has claimed.

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The UK, France and Germany are being referred to court for failing to limit NO2 emissions while Italy and Hungary "persistently" have high levels of PM10. In our joint inquiry into air quality, we found little evidence of the decisive steps needed to protect the public.

The government's own research shows clean air zones (CAZs), in which cars are deterred from city centres by pollution charges, are by far the most effective solution to air pollution.

The European legal case now moves to the ECJ, which will hold a hearing within months.

European Union judges in Luxembourg will be able to hit Britain with huge fines under the bloc' "infringement proceedings". But Vella also admitted that "legal action alone will not solve the problem". "Manufacturers that keep disregarding the law have to bear the consequences of their wrongdoing".

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