|BRUSSELS - Wide-ranging proposals to clean up Europe's polluted air won approval from the European Commission on Wednesday after a debate over the package's multi-billion euro price tag threatened to scupper it.|
The measures, dubbed the "clean air strategy", will seek to bring the European Union up to par with the United States in capping emissions of particulates, or fine dust, in the air.
It will also set tighter limits for emissions of pollutants like nitrogen oxide and ammonia from different sectors of the EU economy like transport, power, and agriculture.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the measures, expected to cost 7.1 billion euros ($8.7 billion) a year from 2020 when they are fully implemented, would enable Europe to have one of the most advanced air policies in the world.
"It is clear that air pollution will remain a problem even after 2020," he told a news conference. "If we do not act we would have to pay much more in the future."
The stategy includes proposed legislation which will have to be approved by member states and the European Parliament, as well as other measures to change existing EU rules.
Earlier cost estimates of 12 billion euros a year were reduced by cutting the strategy's "level of ambition", Dimas said. Planned reductions in ozone pollution were scaled down and the target number of preventable early deaths was also slightly affected.
In July, the Commission shelved the air quality plans along with six other initiatives on marine protection, waste, soil, pesticides, natural resources and urban environmental management to have a general debate on the environment.
Though the debate ended in general support for the strategies, it also led to cuts. Industry group UNICE said it would eye the proposals to see if the cuts were enough.
"We need to see whether this is consistent with being willing to make the whole thing more cost efficient for industry," said spokeswoman Maria Fernanda Fau.
The Commission estimates the health benefits of the strategy to be worth at least 42 billion euros a year from 2020 -- six times the costs -- by reducing the number of deaths, sicknesses and related medical care that bad air spawns.
Air pollution can make breathing more difficult, exacerbate asthma and bronchitis, and is blamed for 370,000 premature deaths a year in the 25-nation EU. The new measures aim to reduce that figure to 230,000 by 2020.
On the environmental side, the measures aim to cut down on the number of ecosystems like forests that suffer from acidification and other damaging effects of air pollution.
The proposals include new rules that would regulate the amount of tiny particulates that get into people's lungs, known as PM 2.5, within the EU's member states.
It will also include proposals to lower emissions from new cars and vans, big trucks and ships.
Story by Jeff Mason
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE