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Potocnik delays improved air quality measures until 2013

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EU legislation to improve air quality on land and at sea is to be delayed until 2013. The environment commissioner Janez Potočnik says the measures to revise the National Emissions Ceilings directive and other air quality legislation will be too expensive, and he has other priorities for the next couple of years, but his assessment has been strongly criticised by environmental and health groups.

In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Potočnik said the [long overdue] revision of the NEC would be too costly, and a few days later, the environmental news service Ends Europe said he wanted to concentrate on biodiversity, resource efficiency and water in the period 2010-12.

His comments were attacked by environmental and health NGOs, who said the decision will put the health of millions of European citizens at risk, and cause premature deaths among children and people suffering from breathing diseases. They also say the argument that it is too expensive is flawed, as the benefits to health, the environment and the economy have been shown ‘to significantly outweigh the costs involved’.

A delay in the NEC revision, which was originally expected in 2007, could also slow down the rate at which cities introduce bans on high-emission vehicles.

Legislative proposals revising the sulphur content in fuels used at sea looked like also being affected. Proposals revising sulphur in marine fuels were expected in 2008, but have still not appeared.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) agreed stricter limits on SOx and NOx emissions from international shipping in 2008, after years of heated debate, during which the EU threatened to go it alone if the IMO did not act. As a result, the Commission delayed its review of the sulphur in marine fuels directive due in 2008, putting it back to 2010, but this now looks like being 2013.