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Document 51999AC0067

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'Proposal for a Council Directive amending Directive 88/609/EEC on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants'

OJ C 101, 12.4.1999, p. 55–59 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)


Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'Proposal for a Council Directive amending Directive 88/609/EEC on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants'

Official Journal C 101 , 12/04/1999 P. 0055 - 0059

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'Proposal for a Council Directive amending Directive 88/609/EEC on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants` () (1999/C 101/13)

On 23 October 1998 the Council decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under Article 130s of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 8 January 1999. The rapporteur was Mr Gafo Fernández.

At its 360th plenary session (meeting of 27 January 1999) the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 92 votes to 25 with 20 abstentions.

1. Introduction

1.1. The proposal contains a major revision of Directive 88/609/EEC, although most of the text remains in force.

1.2. The revision is based on five main considerations:

- The 1988 directive provided for its revision ten years after its entry into force.

- Changes in the Community energy scene, with greater use of natural gas for electricity generation and a continuous decline in Community coal production.

- The adoption of other environmental protection legislation, most importantly Directive 96/61/EC on integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) () and Directive 96/62/EC on ambient air quality () , and the growing importance of the combating of acidification () and tropospheric ozone, which directly affect the area to which this directive applies.

- The accession to the Community of three new Member States and international agreements on transboundary pollution.

- Technical progress which could increase the economically attractive ways of reducing SO2, NOx and particulate emissions.

1.3. The proposal for a directive contains a number of amendments to Directive 88/609/EEC:

- It broadens the scope of the directive to include under the heading of fuel certain other classes of safe, non-toxic wastes (for example biomass); the directive's scope is also extended to gas turbines as power generation systems.

- It places emphasis on combined heat and power (CHP) generation where technologically and economically feasible, in line with the recent Council recommendation.

- It reduces the discretion allowed to the competent national authorities to apply temporary derogations in the event of abnormal operating conditions.

- It lays down daily emission limit values for combustion plants put into operation after 1 January 2000.

1.4. However, the most important amendments are those which refer to the annexes:

- The SO2 and NOx emission limit values for new combustion plants are roughly half those applied to plants authorized since 1 July 1987.

- New emission limit values are laid down for gas turbines.

- The desulphurization requirements are substantially tightened up for new plants.

- Measuring systems are reinforced, both for existing plants of above 300 MW (thermal input) and new plants of above 100 MW (thermal input), with priority to continuous measurement.

- The exception applied under the previous version of the directive to plants of 400 MW (thermal input) or greater, provided that their annual operation level is less than 2 200 hours, will not apply to plants authorized from 1 January 2000.

2. General and specific comments

2.1. The Committee welcomes the Commission's submission of this revision of the Directive on Large combustion plants, which the Committee called for in its Opinion on the Proposal on the Sulphur content of fuel ().

2.2. The Committee is also pleased that the recitals of the draft directive make specific reference to the directive's interaction with other Community activities, in particular Directive 96/61 (IPPC), the directives on the internal market in electricity and natural gas, and the strategies for waste management, especially the use of biomass and combined heat and power.

2.3. The Committee is also glad that the recitals refer to the health risks caused by atmospheric pollution and to the contribution which combined heat and power generation can make to the achievement of the Community's commitment to stabilize CO2 emissions.

2.4. However, here the Committee would express its first comments on some of the proposals put forward in the directive:

2.4.1. The Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control lays down a specific criterion for the analysis of each plant in accordance with the best available technology (BAT) criterion, specifically tailored to the situation of that particular plant in relation to its environment. Some of the proposals which will be discussed below, however, are very rigorous, so that in some cases their application might prove too rigid and lacking in flexibility, going beyond the recommendations of the above directive.

2.5. The Committee is glad that the targets set in the 1988 directive have been retained, both for plants existing at the date in question and for those authorized or commissioned after the date in question but before the current directive entered into force. The Committee would like to point out, however, that the vast majority of plants of this kind have had to reduce their emission levels substantially during this period, as a result of the application of stricter national or local standards, the imminent entry into force of the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive and the commitments entered into under the 1979 UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution.

2.6. The Committee endorses and supports the Commission's approach of requiring provision to be made for the combined generation of heat and electricity where this is technically and economically feasible.

2.7. The Committee does not approve of the new wording of Article 8 (malfunction of abatement equipment). This is a clear case of interference in a problem, the assessment and resolution of which is, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, the exclusive preserve of the competent authorities of the Member States, particularly given the abolition of the 'force majeure` provisions of the original directive, whereby the use of fuels with a higher sulphur content was permitted in exceptional circumstances for a strictly limited period.

2.8. But the Committee's main criticism of the current proposal relates to the new emission levels for the various categories of fuel set out in Annexes III to VII, and by extension in Article 9(3). The Committee is aware that these levels have been strongly criticized by all the energy producing sectors as disproportionate to the intended objectives and impossible to achieve using economically viable technologies. The criticisms can be analysed as follows:

2.8.1. These very strict limits in many cases go much further than those applicable to individual plants under the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, which, the Committee would reiterate, takes account of the specific characteristics of each plant in relation to its environment and thus regulates each new plant before it is authorized for commissioning.

2.8.2. The new limits laid down in Annexes III to VI amount to a 50 % reduction in SO2 emissions and between 30 and 50 % for NOx and suspended particulates, compared with the values laid down only ten years ago, although, in the Committee's opinion, economically viable technologies have not progressed at the same rate.

2.8.3. The minimum desulphurization limits for plants using solid fuel laid down in Annex VIII seem disproportionate, particularly those applying to plants with a rated thermal input of between 50 and 100 MW.

2.9. The proposed directive defines biomass as fuel, even when it is of waste origin (as long as it is untreated). The Committee supports this approach as being conducive to increasing the level of waste recovery. On the same lines, the Committee would ask the Commission to investigate the possibility of extending in future the definition of 'fuel` to include other well-defined, clean substances - that have been scientifically certified as harmless - which are now treated as waste.

2.10. The Committee considers that the economic assessments referred to in the explanatory memorandum should have been the subject of more profound and detailed study, as many of the organizations consulted are highly critical of them and regard the proposal as very damaging to the competitiveness of the Community economy.

2.11. The Committee also has reservations with regard to the term 'new plants` which is frequently used in the proposal. The Committee would have preferred Article 2 to define as 'new plants` all plants authorized between 1 July 1987 and the entry into force of the new directive (so as to leave the current text substantially unchanged), and as 'second-generation plants` those authorized after 1 January 2000. This would have made the directive - and particularly its annexes - easier to understand than does the revision currently proposed.

2.12. The Committee calls on the Commission to carry out, as a matter of urgency, a specific study into the impact of this revision on the Community's most remote regions, where geographic and atmospheric conditions make it worthwhile considering exempting them from some of the current proposals.

2.13. The Committee also has serious doubts as to the practical applicability of the new proposal to the applicant countries for EU accession. As the Committee has recently pointed out, a suitable transitional period is needed to enable these countries to comply fully with the proposal.

2.14. Finally, in view of the economic and strategic importance of the proposal and of the complexity of the changes it entails, the Committee feels that a consolidated version of the original directive should have been submitted.

3. Specific comments

3.1. Insert a new recital 11(b) as follows: 'Whereas the situation of the Community's most remote regions makes it desirable that specific studies should be carried out to assess the impact of this directive on, and its suitability for, these regions, possibly pointing to the adoption of alternative measures producing equivalent results in terms of air quality`.

3.2. Insert a new definition in Article 2 as follows: 'Second-generation plants: Plants authorized after 1 January 2000`.

Brussels, 27 January 1999.

The President

of the Economic and Social Committee


() OJ C 300, 29.9.1998, p. 6.

() OJ L 257, 10.10.1996.

() OJ L 296, 21.11.1996.

() Communication from the Commission on a Community strategy to combat acidification (COM(97) 88 final, 12.3.1997).

() OJ C 355, 21.11.1997.

APPENDIX to the opinion of the Economic and Social Committee

Amendments defeated

During the debate, the following amendments, which received more than 25 % of the votes cast, were defeated.

Points 2.4 and 2.4.1

Replace with a new point 2.4:

'The Committee welcomes the Commission's initiative, inter alia in the light of Article 18 of the IPPC Directive, to draw up new uniform minimum standards for large combustion plants in the Community. These specific measures and this harmonization will at the same time create uniform conditions of competition.`


Contrary to the assertion of the rapporteur, there is no conflict between the IPPC Directive and the Commission's proposal for a directive. If the rapporteur's argument were to be followed, then logically the whole text of the draft directive should be rejected. Under Article 18 of the IPPC directive, harmonized minimum standards may be laid down where this is considered necessary. The Committee might of course conclude that there is no need for minimum standards. But if the approach adopted in the proposal is in general accepted, the statements contained in point 2.4 make no sense.

Result of the vote

For: 56, against: 58, abstentions: 18.

Point 2.5

Reword as follows:

'The Committee notes that existing plants are not intended to fall within the scope of this directive. It suggests that the directive should be extended to cover these plants in order to achieve stringent emission reductions.`


Implementation of the draft directive will reduce SO2 and NOx emissions from large combustion plants (LCPs) by only 3 % and 6 % respectively by 2010. Reason: the exclusion of existing plants from the scope of the directive. If, however, the proposed limit values were also to apply to existing plants, SO2 emissions from LCPs would be reduced by 78 % and NOx by 40 %. The EU intends to achieve reductions of toxic SO2 and NOx emissions, as these are partly responsible for acidification (EU acidification strategy, COM(97) 88 final). However, the proposal will make only a very minor contribution to this. If the Committee really attaches high priority to environmental protection, it should at the very least not be 'glad` that emissions from existing plants are not to be reduced.

Result of the vote

For: 54, against: 72, abstentions: 7.

Points 2.8, 2.8.1, 2.8.2 and 2.8.3



The conflict alleged by the rapporteur in point 2.8.1 does not exist. The IPPC directive does not lay down limit values but merely uses the flexible phrase 'best available technology`.

Nor is it true that the limit values chosen 'have been strongly criticized by all the energy producing sectors`, that they are 'disproportionate` or 'impossible to achieve using economically viable technologies`. The Commission believes that new plants can easily comply with these limit values.

Result of the vote

For: 56, against: 65, abstentions: 16.

Point 2.10



The Commission's account (see p. 9 of the draft) of reactions from the industry differs greatly from that of the rapporteur.

Result of the vote

For: 54, against: 70, abstentions: 10.

Point 2.14

Delete this point.


The principle of prevention underlying EU environment policy must apply equally in all regions of the EU.

Result of the vote

For: 49, against: 69, abstentions: 14.