Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Seventh Report






COM(99) 611


Amended draft Directive amending Directive 88/609/EEC on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants.





COM(01) 222



Further amended draft Directive amending Directive 88/609/EEC on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants.

Joint text approved by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers on a draft Directive on large combustion plants.

Legal base:

Article 175 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting


Document originated:



(b) 24 April 2001

Deposited in Parliament:

(a) 20 December 1999


(b) 20 June 2001


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Basis of consideration:

(a) SEM of 22 January 2001

(b) SEMs of 14 September 2001and 25 April 2002

Previous Committee Report:

None; but see footnote below

To be discussed in Council:

Proposals already adopted

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

(Both) Cleared




  8.1  Previous Community legislation set limits on emissions into the air of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from large combustion plants. New plants (licensed on or after 1 January 1987) were subject to specific limits, whilst emissions from older plants (licensed before that date) fell within a progressively reduced national "bubble". However, the Commission put forward in July 1998 a proposal[7] to set stricter emission limits for individual new plants licensed on or after 1 January 2000, whilst leaving the national "bubbles" for older plants unchanged. As our predecessors noted in their Report of 14 November 1998, the Government had expressed a number of reservations about the proposal. Most of these were addressed in a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 30 April 1999, and the Regulatory Impact Assessment enclosed with that Memorandum made it clear that, although the proposal was unlikely to impose any additional costs on the UK, this country could nevertheless expect to receive benefits from the reduced deposition of sulphur and nitrogen oxides from a number of other Member States.

  8.2  However, one concern — the application of the proposal to existing plants — remained unresolved, and was the subject of a Second Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 26 November 1999. This said that the UK supported the Commission's view that emissions from existing plants were adequately controlled under existing legislation, whereas some Member States preferred mandatory emission limits for such plants. The then Presidency had therefore suggested a possible compromise, which would set out limit values, but apply these only in so far as it was technically and economically feasible and taking into consideration costs and advantages. Since this would not have required the UK to impose any further controls on existing plants, and the Government had said that it would not support any proposal which applied mandatory limit values in such cases, our predecessors decided on 1 December 1999 to clear the proposal, on which they understood the Presidency was aiming to reach agreement at the Environment Council the following week.

The current documents

(a) First amended proposal

  8.3  In the meantime, the Commission had put forward in November 1999 an amended proposal (document (a)) incorporating four of the 15 amendments adopted by the European Parliament following its first reading. However, our predecessors were informed in an Explanatory Memorandum of 7 January 2000 that three of these were minor, and that the fourth would be pursued separately. They therefore decided on 19 January 2000 that the document could be cleared without a substantive Report to the House.

  8.4  They then received on 22 January 2001 a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum from the Minister of State for the Environment at the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr Michael Meacher), enclosing the text of a Common Position which the Council had reached on 9 November 2000, together with a Regulatory Impact Assessment.

  8.5  This Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum said that the Common Position text had not amended the Commission's proposals as regards "new" plants, and that negotiations had, therefore, centred around the treatment of "existing" plants licensed before July 1987. The Common Position text represented a "hard-fought" compromise on this point, allowing those wishing to set emission limits on individual existing plants to do so, whilst giving other Member States, such as the UK, the flexibility to reduce such emissions by 1 January 2008 under a national plan - though an existing plant could be exempted from either of these conditions if it was not operated for more than 20,000 hours after 1 January 2008, and the operator chose this option by June 2004.

  8.6  The accompanying Regulatory Impact Assessment put the costs of complying with the emission limits laid down for plants licensed before 1987 as being in the region of 200 million a year. However, it pointed out that those incurred under the national plan approach were likely to be much smaller, given the flexibility this would provide for a more cost-effective approach. It also said that the Government intended to review its cost estimates through discussions with industry. Our predecessors therefore decided to defer considering the matter until they had received that revised Assessment.

(b) Second amended proposal

  8.7  In April 2001, the Commission produced yet another amended proposal (document (b)) following the European Parliament's second reading on 14 March 2001. This was the subject of an unsigned Explanatory Memorandum during the General Election period, which was to be re-submitted following the Election to include policy implications. However, as the Minister subsequently explained in an Explanatory Memorandum of 14 September 2001, a joint text had been approved by the Conciliation Committee on 2 August 2001, and was expected to be adopted following the European Parliament's third reading on 19 September. His Explanatory Memorandum had been expanded to include the Conciliation Committee text, but said that an updated Regulatory and Environmental Impact Assessment would be forwarded in a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum. We therefore decided to defer consideration of the documents until then, but that information has only now been supplied — some seven months later — in a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum and Regulatory Impact Assessment of 25 April 2002.

Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 25 April 2002

  8.8  According to the Minister, the key elements of the text agreed in conciliation — which came into force on 23 October 2001 — were:

the introduction of an end date of 31 December 2015 for operators who choose to operate their plants for less than 20,000 hours after 2008 (and who would thus not have to comply with the emission limit values or be included in a National Plan);

a curtailment in the number of hours a year that a large "existing" solid fuel burning plant is able to operate in order to qualify for less stringent sulphur dioxide limits;

a modification of the exemptions for solid indigenous fuels;

a tightening of certain emission limit values;

    However, he suggests that the impact of these various changes within the UK is likely in each case to be small.

  8.9  The Regulatory Impact Assessment attached to the Minister's Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum endeavours to estimate the likely costs and benefits of the new measures. It says that, although plants built since 1987 must meet specified emission limits, those in the UK will generally do so already. Consequently, although the Commission envisages the proposals leading to substantial reductions in emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter over the Community as a whole, the Government does not expect there to be significant reductions in this country (though it also follows that the additional costs of the measure for such plants are unlikely to be very great either).

  8.10  The main impact will arise in the case of existing plants licensed before 1 January 1987, and will depend upon whether they have to meet limit values individually or under a national plan (which would be more flexible because some plants could emit more whilst others emit less). Since the UK will not decide which approach to adopt until after it has consulted interested parties, the Assessment provides estimates for each. It suggests that the annual benefits of compliance by 2008 would be from 54 to 83 million under the first approach and up to 11 million under the second, with total costs of from 525 million — 663 million, and of up to 44 million respectively. The annual benefits for compliance by 2016 (when much stricter limits for nitrogen oxides would be imposed) would rise to 99 million with individual limits and to 49 million — 59 million under a national plan, whilst the overall costs would be 645 million — 679 million and 163 million — 265 million respectively. The Assessment does, however, add that there will be a number of other benefits which are difficult to quantify, and that the UK will also benefit from reductions in emissions in other Member States.


  8.11  We are grateful for the very full Regulatory Impact Assessment which the Government has now provided, and we are content to clear the substance of the documents before us, where the outcome so far as the UK is concerned appears to be satisfactory.

  8.12  We are, however, concerned about the way in which parliamentary scrutiny has been handled in the latter stages. As we have noted, our predecessors eventually cleared both the original Commission proposal and the amended proposal put forward after the European Parliament's first reading. However, since the Regulatory Impact Assessment supplied by the Government on 22 January 2001 following the Council's adoption of a Common Position contained so many uncertainties (which the Government had said that it intended to review), they understandably decided to defer any further consideration until after they had received a revised Assessment. Subsequently, although events were to an extent overtaken by last year's General Election, we did not receive an Explanatory Memorandum from the Minister until 14 September 2001, after agreement had been reached in the Conciliation Committee. Moreover, although we too were promised an updated Regulatory Impact Assessment, which we (like our predecessors) decided to await before considering the issues it raised, we have only very recently received this. In other words, the consequence of these lengthy delays in supplying timely information on the costs and benefits of this proposal, and the Minister's failure to warn us that such delays were likely, has been effectively to suspend scrutiny of it for the last 15 months or so. This is clearly unsatisfactory, and we are writing to the Minister to explore ways in which such a situation — which has arisen on other documents involving his Department — can be avoided in future.


7   (19368) 10916/98; see HC 155-xxxix (1997-98), paragraph 3 (4 November 1998), HC 34-xxvi (1998-99), paragraph 2 (14 July 1999), and HC 23-ii (1999-2000), paragraph 8 (1 December 1999). Back

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