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Polluter pays principle taken to next level - 09/07/2008

Lots of lorries blocking a road

EU countries can charge operators of heavy goods vehicles for noise, congestion and air pollution caused by their lorries, under new commission plan.

Lorries carry 73% of the goods transported by land in the European Union, but are harder on the environment than trains or barges. Trucks account for 90% of the environmental costs of all transport, which the commission estimates at about €100bn a year.

Currently heavy‑duty vehicles travelling within the EU can only be charged for wear and tear on roads. The Commission’s green transport proposal would let governments also levy tolls for costs related to noise, air pollution and traffic congestion.

Governments would not have to impose the tolls but could choose to do so for vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes. Charges would be capped, with tolls lower for less-polluting lorries. There will also be an incentive to use motorways and avoid suburban areas.

The extra revenues must be used to finance efforts to reduce the environmental impact from transport, for example developing more energy-efficient vehicles.

The proposal, which would take effect in 2011, must be approved by EU governments and the European Parliament to become law. It would be the first time EU countries can charge freight operators for environmental harm.

EU transport commissioner Antonio Tajani said the package is about “making sure the polluter and not the taxpayer pays for environmental damage”.

The proposal is part of a broad plan to make transport more efficient and greener. Also included are measures addressing aircraft noise, greenhouse gases in the maritime sector and climate change taxation.

The commission is also working on legislation to reduce the noise from rail freight trains by 50%. The aim is that that by 2014, 16 million people in the EU will benefit from markedly less rail noise.

Recently the Commission took steps to cut CO2 emissions in aviation by simplifying the EU's airspace control systems and shortening passenger routes or in car industry by proposing emission limits on newly made cars.

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