29,000 early deaths each year in the UK directly attributable to air pollution. But the Tory (greenest ever government) government refuses to meet the EU standards
Greenpeace’s head of energy, Daisy Sands said “To protect the profits of a few coal-burning energy firms the self titled “greenest government ever” is lobbying to “water down” air pollution rules that could save hundreds of lives and many millions in NHS costs. Not content with locking consumers into higher bills by undermining the cheapest clean energy sources and home efficiency, ministers are now putting their health at risk by letting big polluters off the hook.” But it’s all about our profits say the carbon production “Captains of Industry.”
5 March 2015 – UK Industry lobbyists in Westminster weakened Europe’s air pollution rules
New limits on air pollution in Europe have been watered down because governments are allowing some of the worst polluters to help draw up the rules. Despite UK claims to the contrary, energy industry representatives repeatedly and forcefully pushed for weaker pollution limits at meetings in Brussels. As a result of ongoing lobbying, the proposed European Union standards on toxic emissions from coal plants will be less strict than in China.
An analysis of the backgrounds of hundreds of representatives appointed by governments to sit the official group charged with formulating new limits on air pollution across Europe found that out of 352 members of the technical working group, 183 are either employed by the companies that are being regulated, or by lobby groups representing those companies.
Documents released under the “freedom of information act” show that the companies helped to formulate Britain’s position, which was adopted and submitted to the European negotiations two years ago. The UK government maintains that industry representatives did not negotiate but at key meetings in Brussels, they forcefully pushed for weaker pollution limits. Five out of the UK’s nine-strong delegation in Brussels work for companies that are responsible for large-scale emissions, including coal power plant operators RWE, EDF and E.ON. The remaining members of the British delegation are civil servants who are committed to the policies of the UK government.
Officials from energy firms repeatedly complained about the cost of clean air improvements, and a perceived lack of analysis of the economic consequences. They also lobbied to eliminate measures such as ‘coal washing’ from consideration, which would have reduced emissions of ash and sulphur dioxide. Other measures advanced by energy firms included weaker limits for nitrogen oxide emissions from gas plants, and using more polluting plants as the baseline for limits set under the new rules.
Christian Schaible, a senior policy officer for the European Environment Bureau said “Operators of energy utilities shouldn’t sit in the official member states delegation to avoid obvious conflicts of interest in the setting of environmental performance benchmarks that they will themselves have to meet.” But business representatives, members of delegations from Britain, Poland, Czech Republic, Greece, Germany, France and Spain stand accused of being the driving force behind the weakening of proposed controls.
Lawrence Carter, a campaigner for Greenpeace said “This is a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse. Toxic emissions are killing thousands of people across Europe every year, but rather than clamp down on polluters, politicians are allowing them to prioritise profit over public health. People in the UK could now end up paying with their health for our government’s sell-out to the coal lobby on a vital issue like air quality. By leaving the big polluters to write new air quality rules, EU and UK ministers are guilty of a collective dereliction of duty.”
The industrial emissions directive rules were originally proposed in June 2013 and could still be further weakened in a formal proposal which the commission hopes to have ready by the end of July 2015. If implemented across Europe, they would cut sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions. But an EU source confirmed that this would still be much less robust than in other countries.
The new rules govern ‘best available techniques’ for curbing emissions under the directive, which is intended to prevent or reduce pollution. However, a clause in the directive allows rules to be implemented in an “economically viable and technically reliable” way. Some countries argue that the benefits of cleaner air are outweighed by the cost of technologies such as selective catalytic reduction, the most effective way of controlling nitrogen oxide emissions.
Industry groups say that the top 20 energy utilities have already lost €500bn since 2008 because of EU clean energy targets. “Looking at the potentially high number of power plants which we will still have to close and the very limited scope for investing in this area, I think it is logical that industry should have expressed a strong interest in keeping their ability to supply much-needed balancing power alive,” said Hans ten Berge, the secretary-general of Eurelectric, which represents Europe’s electricity companies.
On Tuesday, the European Environment Agency warned that air pollution will still cause hundreds of thousands of people to die prematurely in Europe in the next two decades because of governments’ failure to act.
Comments: With some exceptions, most political parties are funded by corporations of one sort or another – & thus in turn are open to the sort of abuse noted in the article. In the UK, 50% of the people working in DECC come from power companies such as EON, EdF RWE etc. It is they who set government energy policy – which naturally suits the power companies. The Tories and Labourites are highly influenced by the power sector lobby – which cruises around giving money to whoever is in power (or looks as though they will get into power).
Playing with peoples’ lives for profit seems to be part of what big business is all about. A responsible government wouldn’t allow such cynical views to infect their policies and drive their actions, but the Westminster government seems to share the corporate perspective of seeing pound signs where they should be seeing people, fellow human beings.
It’s not simply putting profit before People to say “we want softer targets regardless of what harms our products and actions incur”, it’s treating people AS profit; treating humans as fodder, units of expendable cost against the potential to make money. It’s disgusting, and it has to stop.
I’ll bet there are a number of politicians and highly placed mandarins receiving bungs or later “moving on” to highly paid “jobs” in the companies they helped. This is not just corruption, it’s the kind of corruption that kills tens of thousands of people every year.
28 May 2015 – Brussels moves to limit coal lobby’s influence on pollution standards
European countries must not allow industry experts in their national delegations to lobby for weaker coal standards, the European commission’s top environment official has said.
The move follows revelations that big energy lobbyists included in British delegations to Brussels mounted a sustained and aggressive drive for weaker limits on toxic pollutants that are responsible for over 20,000 deaths a year in the UK alone.
The new instruction by the commission’s director-general for the environment, Karl Falkenberg, was outlined in a letter to his counterparts in all 28 EU countries, dated 20 May 2015. Falkenberg said that lines dividing national representatives, industry experts and NGOs should be strictly adhered to in the technical working groups (TWGs) that negotiate emissions standards.
“Whilst nothing precludes that the industries concerned or NGOs can assist member state representatives in exchanging information, it must be clear that during TWG meetings and indeed, in all other TWG proceedings, a member state representative presents the views of its national authorities,” he wrote. Industry experts and NGOs in national delegations “should ensure that their expressed views are fully consistent with the views of their member state,” he added.
An analysis earlier this year found that most of the 352 working group members tasked with drawing up new air pollutions controls were either employed by the companies being regulated, or by lobby groups representing those companies. Five out of the UK’s nine-strong delegation worked for big energy firms such as RWE, EDF and E.On.
Although such members are not supposed to negotiate, in practice it was discovered that they made multiple comments, requests and lobby pushes, focused on the purported costs of tighter pollution standards for their businesses. They also advanced measures to weaken limits for nitrogen oxide emissions from gas plants.
Louise Hutchins, a campaigner at Greenpeace welcomed the commission’s rebuke to practices that could allow lobbyists to pose as government representatives. “Thanks to this infiltration, proposed limits on toxic emissions are now so weak they would allow Europe’s coal plants to pollute more than some of their notorious Chinese counterparts,” she said. “The damage has been done, but government officials are still in time to reverse some of it.
With tighter rules, thousands of lives and billions in health and economic costs could still be saved in the EU every year.” A recent study found that the EU’s draft rules for coal plant emissions could result in 71,000 deaths and £52bn in health costs across Europe in the next decade, compared to the best available techniques.
12 August 2015 – The UK government is lobbying for even weaker EU air pollution laws
The Conservative government is arguing that already watered-down laws (expected to be agreed early next year, before coming into force in 2020) limiting toxic pollution that causes tens of thousands of deaths each year, will cause job losses in the coal mining sector. Leaked documents show the UK is pushing for already watered-down EU air pollution laws to be weakened still further, arguing they would cause pit closures leading to substantial job losses and the need to import coal. The EU rules could help curb toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions, although campaigners criticised them following revelations that they were partly drafted by the same companies they were meant to regulate.
But a confidential Westminster government submission to Brussels says that the UK would have to import coal from Russia, Colombia and South Africa to meet the new standards, because British coal has such a high sulphur content which would prevent indigenous coal being used in any new power plants fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. This “would therefore lead to the loss of the principal market for UK coal and the closure of the UK’s coal mines,” the paper says. The mine closures would also lead to substantial job losses – directly and indirectly within the supply chain – in areas of the UK with significant levels of unemployment and socio-economic deprivation.” (But carbon capture and storage is not yet ready for operational use. It remains a myth)
However, air pollution is a reality which hits poor people in urban areas and ethnic minorities hardest, and the true early death toll could be even higher than statistics suggest.
Greenpeace’s head of energy, Daisy Sands said “To protect the profits of a few coal-burning energy firms the self titled “greenest government ever” is lobbying to “water down” air pollution rules that could save hundreds of lives and many millions in NHS costs. Not content with locking consumers into higher bills by undermining the cheapest clean energy sources and home efficiency, ministers are now putting their health at risk by letting big polluters off the hook.”
In April 2015, the UK supreme court gave the government until the end of the year to present a plan for cleaning up the country’s polluted air, which is responsible for 29,000 early deaths every year. The government is expected to announce its plan for bringing the UK into line with the EU’s existing air quality directive next month. The UK has been in breach of the EU’s nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution limits since 2010 and will not meet them until 2030 on current trends, according to government figures, raising the spectre of fines of up to £300m a year.
Alan Andrews, a lawyer for ClientEarth, which brought the supreme court case against the government, expressed dismay at the pro-coal stance in the leaked papers. “It suggests that they are not taking the supreme court decision seriously and are not making a genuine attempt to achieve the emissions reductions as soon as possible,” he told the Guardian. “We would seriously consider further legal action if that is the case, after we have analysed the new plan.”