Air quality, emissions trading and noise
EU legislation aimed at improving air quality and minimising pollution covers a number of areas.
The following may be relevant to SMEs:
The EU has established national emission ceilings for four pollutants – sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and ammonia (NH3). There may be obligations on businesses that emit these substances at a national level as authorities have to draw up national inventories of these pollutants and take steps to minimise them.
In addition, there are a series of limits for concentrations of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and lead in the air. National authorities must monitor the levels of these substances in the air and take steps to ensure they are below the set limits.
Equipment and businesses that store significant amounts of petrol must ensure that their premises and equipment meet certain technical specifications.
Likewise, companies in sectors that use organic solvents for coating, cleaning, printing, refining vegetable oils, wood impregnating or laminating are covered by legislation. It obliges them to register their operations, conform with emission limits, work towards their reduction and replace the most dangerous substances with safer alternatives. EU Member States must have a National Plan in place to deal with these substances.
A related directive affects companies that manufacture or use decorative paints, varnishes and vehicle refinishing products that contain volatile organic compounds. It sets maximum concentrations for such chemicals in the products.
Although primarily for larger industrial plants, the EU’s Integrated Pollution, Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive may be relevant to some smaller businesses. It covers highly polluting industries and businesses in the energy, metals, mineral, chemical industry, waste management, and livestock farming industries.
Plants in these sectors above a certain size must obtain a permit for their activities and meet a number of ‘best available technology’ criteria on pollution prevention, energy efficiency and waste disposal. National authorities are responsible for administrating permits.
Other useful links (external):
The EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has covered over 11,500 energy intensive installations across the EU since 2005. The scheme is designed to reduce CO2 emissions and help the EU Member States meet their commitments under the international agreement on climate change, the Kyoto Protocol in a cost effective manner.
Installations covered by the ETS account for half of the EU’s emissions of CO2 and include combustion plants, oil refineries, coke ovens, iron and steel plants, and factories making cement, glass, lime, brick, ceramics, pulp and paper.
National governments allocate, in a ‘National Allocation Plan (NAP)’, allowances to industrial plants covered by the scheme to emit certain amounts of CO2. Companies can buy or sell emissions allowances on a market system, giving a financial incentive to lower emissions and ensuring that the targets are achieved at the least cost.
Allowances traded in the EU ETS are registered in national electronic registries and then in the overall Community independent transaction log. The registries system keeps track of the ownership of allowances in the same way as a banking system keeps track of the ownership of money.
The second period of emissions trading lasts from 2008 to 2012.
EU legislation sets uniform rules on noise in a number of areas – limiting noise levels from outdoor machinery, road and rail transport, aircrafts and protecting people at work.
There are standards set at an EU-level for the permitted noise emissions of more than 50 types of equipment used outdoors in construction and other industries, such as compressors, excavator-loaders, saws, mixers or lawnmowers.
Manufacturers have to ensure that the equipment that they produce complies with uniform noise standards and label them appropriately. Users must ensure their equipment meets these standards. National laws can also set restrictions on the working hours of these types of equipment in certain areas.
Under health and safety requirements, employers have a responsibility to provide protection to workers when noise is above a certain level in their workplace.
The exhaust systems of all vehicles used on roads cannot exceed certain noise levels and must be certified as such under EU legislation applying to both general motor vehicles and motorcycles. By no later than 18 July 2013, action plans must be drawn up for all major agglomerations, major airports, major roads and major railways.