Campaign group Greenpeace has claimed the UK lobbied to weaken draft EU regulations on toxic emissions from waste incinerators.
Defra denied the accusation that UK delegates pressed to keep a loophole in draft regulations on emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx).
Greenpeace’s news operation Unearthed reported that the EU has debated new rules that would force incinerators to reduce NOx emissions by 25% by 2024 from the current permitted daily average of 200mg/Nm3.
It said: “While the UK supported a 10% emissions reduction, representatives pushed an extra clause that will allow many existing incinerators to meet a standard that is 20% higher than the new proposed limit…if one of the technologies used to reduce toxic emissions is not ‘applicable’ to the plant.”
Greenpeace said this referred to selective catalytic reduction, a technology not currently used by most EU incineration plants, including all plants in the UK.
But if applied, the clause would allow plants the opportunity to exempt themselves from meeting stricter standard by arguing that they cannot install the technology.
Defra said Greenpeace’s claim that the UK lobbied to weaken the rules were “not true”.
The department said the current maximum NOx limit for most waste incinerators in Europe is 200mg per normal cubic metre. Draft regulations supported by the UK promoted “a range of 80-150mg for existing plants with the footnote allowing this to be increased to 180mg in some cases. This still represents a 10% reduction in the allowed upper limit, which the UK fully supported”.
A Defra spokesperson said: “The UK is actively engaging in constructive discussions with member states around ongoing work to agree effective solutions to regulating emissions from the waste incineration sector.
“We have recently launched an ambitious £3.5bn plan to reduce harmful emissions, and our upcoming Environment Bill will include provisions to improve air quality.”
It said the new UK clean air strategy was “the most ambitious…in a generation, and aims to halve the harm to human health from air pollution in the UK by 2030”.
Shadow environment minister David Drew said: “We seem to be going in completely the wrong direction. Instead of working to secure cleaner air for public health and better recycling for the sake of the environment, the Government is increasing our reliance on incinerators and therefore the noxious particulate matter that is released into the atmosphere.”
Until last week, Drew’s brief included waste and recycling. In a confusing press release from the Labour Party, Ipswich MP Sandy Martin was announced as the ‘first ever’ minsterial or shadow waste and recycling minister.
Defra minister Therese Coffey holds the brief for both resources and air quality. It now appears Labour has chosen to divide these duties between Martin and Drew.