Committee Reports::Report No. 03 - Air Pollution, Conservation and Protection of the Environment::11 April, 1984::Report



Documents Examined

1. The Joint Committee has examined the following Commission documents in relation to air pollution, conservation and protection of the environment:

(a)Proposal for a Council Directive concerning the assessment of the environmental effects of certain public and private projects — COM(83) 158 final

(b)Council Regulation (EEC) on action by the Community relating to the environment (ACE) — COM(83) 849 final

(c)Council Directive on the combating of air pollution from industrial plants — COM(83) 173 final

(d)Proposal for a Council Directive on the limitation of emissions of pollutants into the air from large combustion plants — COM(83) 704 final

(e)Proposal for a Council Regulation establishing a Community scheme to provide forests in the Community with increased protection against fire and acid rain — COM(82) 375 final.

2. The documents have been examined for the Joint Committee by its Sub-Committee on Social, Environmental and Miscellaneous Matters under the Chairmanship of Senator Mary Robinson. The Joint Committee is indebted to Senator Robinson and her Sub-Committee for their dedicated work. The Joint Committee was facilitated in its consideration of the proposals by memoranda from Professor Frank J. Convery, Heritage Trust Professor of Environmental Studies, UCD, Dublin Corporation, An Taisce, ESB, Confederation of Irish Industry and the Departments of the Environment, Fisheries and Forestry, Energy and Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism. The Joint Committee wishes to express its sincere thanks to the bodies who supplied it with memoranda or otherwise made their views known to it.


(a) Proposal for a Council Directive concerning the assessment of the environmental effects of certain public and private projects — COM(83) 158 final

3. The aim of this proposal, which is made on the basis of the Programme of Action of the European Communities on the Environment (1977), is to ensure that studies are carried out to assess the environmental impact which certain public and private projects are likely to have before they are actually carried out. The draft Directive seeks to incorporate into existing national administrative procedures a series of uniform provisions requiring a project sponsor to submit an environmental impact assessment together with a planning permission application. The measures proposed are therefore essentially preventative.

4. The draft Directive is designed to apply to development projects which are likely to have significant effects on the environment and living conditions. Projects are divided into two lists. The first list indicates the types of work which under all circumstances should be the subject of environmental impact assessments. These include the generation of electricity from nuclear energy, disposal facilities for radio-active waste, manufacture of cement, foundaries, slaughter-houses, construction of motorways, airports, etc.

In exceptional circumstances Member States would be able to grant an exemption to a developer but the Commission has to be notified of the reasons and the public fully informed.

5. The second list contains those types of projects for which the Member States can define the selection criteria themselves. These include production of electricity from non-nuclear sources, production of fine chemicals, manufacture of dairy products, etc.

Application by a project sponsor is to be made publicly available as well as the information gathered in the assessment and if a project is to have a significant environmental effect in another Member State arrangements would have to be made to allow the population of that Member State to participate in the consultative process.

Consideration of Draft Directive

6. A flexible system of impact assessment was brought in with the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1976 but it requires impact studies only for a limited number of private industrial projects, public projects remaining exempt. Article 28 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Regulations, 1977 [S.I. No.65 of 1977] contains requirements regarding environmental studies for any proposed development—

“(i)for the purposes of any trade or industry (including mining) comprising any works, apparatus or plant used for any process which would result in the emission of noise, vibration, smell, fumes, smoke, soot, ash, dust or grit or the discharge of any liquid or other effluent (whether treated or untreated) either with or without particles of matter in suspension therein, and

(ii)the cost of which, including all fixed assets as defined in section 2 of the Industrial Development Act, 1969 (No. 32 of 1969), may reasonably be expected to be five million pounds or more.”.

7. The proposal seeks to introduce into the legislation and administrative practice of the Member States certain common principles for the prior assessment of the effects on the environment of public and private projects likely to have major effects on the environment and living conditions. The competent authority in the Member States would have the task of seeing to it that, before certain projects are authorised or approved, an appropriate assessment of the effects on the environment is made, so that its decision is taken on the basis of adequate information regarding major environmental aspects of the question.

Adoption of the Directive would have implications for bodies sponsoring industrial projects such as the IDA who at present commission Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) for all new projects. These studies are undertaken jointly by An Foras Forbartha and the IIRS. Under the proposed Directive this procedure will be extended to include impacts on landscapes, cultural heritage, etc. and the analysis will be available to the public, which is not the case at present.

8. Although many public agencies in Ireland voluntarily subject their proposals to environmental assessment, this would be mandatory under the proposed Directive for those activities listed in Annex 1. Many undertakings notably in the agricultural area, such as arterial drainage, and large concentrated livestock units, do not now have to conduct and publish an environmental assessment. These are listed in Annex 2, which means that they are likely to be assessed.

Views of the Joint Committee

9. The Joint Committee believes that it is unlikely that the institution of formal EIS procedures would have much impact on decisions taken on industrial and residential development and that it is likely to influence marginal decisions regarding agricultural development. The proposed Directive should generate a substantial Europe-wide market for environmental assessment services.

10. The Joint Committee feels that, in principle, the requirement of an EIS is a good one. The IDA has shown that it can be done relatively inexpensively — payments to the IIRS (the lead agency in the IDA assessment) amount to much less than £1 million per annum and that on balance it facilitates rather than hinders project start-up. This experience can be built up to extend the compass in a most cost-effective fashion. It could open up a tremendous market for the IIRS, An Foras Forbartha and others in this area if they are encouraged and facilitated in this regard, and approach the opportunity aggressively. If an EIS requirement is to be of more than procedural value then, in the Joint Committee’s opinion, it should be preceded by an intensive programme of education, showing how and why it should be used as a management tool. Without such effort, it will be resisted and become just another procedural roadblock to be overcome.

11. The Joint Committee also considered the likely effect of the draft Directive on local authorities in this country. At present the only public project subject to an EIS study is the construction of motorways. Local authorities would be involved in the consideration of EISs when considering planning applications. However, the Joint Committee is informed that most planning applications will not require an EIS. Local authorities may also be involved in the proposed licensing system to monitor water pollution under the proposed Directive.

12. In relation to costs the Joint Committee is informed that environmental assessment is estimated to fall in the range of 0.19-0.75 per cent of the total cost of development. Implementation of the proposed Directive would involve amendment of the Planning Acts.

(b)Council Regulation (EEC) on action by the Community relating to the Environment (ACE) — COM (83) 849 final

13. This Regulation on Community action for the environment, which was agreed in principle by the Council of Environment Ministers on 1 March, 1984, recognises the need for financial assistance towards environmental protection. The Ministers agreed that the Regulation should provide for 13 million ECUs of Community finance over the next three years, compared with the Commission proposal of 19.5 million ECUs, for the following projects:

— the promotion of new technologies in industry which would be less polluting and also more economical of natural resources,

— the encouragement of the development of new techniques and methods for monitoring the quality of the environment, and

— the promotion of incentive schemes aimed at contributing towards the maintenance or re-establishment of seriously threatened biotopes (natural habitats of endangered species of wild flora and fauna) which are the habitat of endangered species and are of particular importance to the Community, under Council Directive 79/409/EEC of 2 April, 1979 on the conservation of wild birds.

A maximum of 30 per cent of the cost of new technologies may be funded by the Community whilst the incentive schemes are eligible for a maximum of 50 per cent.

Consideration of Regulation

14. The Regulation is the first significant step by the Community in acknowledging its role in the protection of the environment. Ireland has many valuable biotopes including some 120,000 hectares of raised bog and other wetland areas, which the Commission and the Community consider worth protecting and which are eligible for aid under the Regulation. The Department of Fisheries and Forestry is likely to be the main beneficiary in this area.

The Regulation provides aid of 13 million ECUs over a three year period for the preservation of biotopes, raised bog and wetlands. The maximum level of EEC financial support will be 50 per cent in the case of biotopes and 30 per cent in the case of the other two headings mentioned above. Some projects from this country have already been submitted to the Commission for consideration for Community aid. It is expected that further projects will be submitted when the Commission invites them.

Views of the Joint Committee

15. While the Joint Committee welcomes the Regulation as a contribution to the preservation of our rich heritage of wild life and our unique botanical legacy, it nevertheless voices its disappointment at the miniscule level of funding provided.

Ireland has many well documented, internationally recognised sites of European and international significance which it will not be possible for us alone to protect unless there is external assistance in doing so. These natural areas often occur in economically deprived regions. Protection should be accompanied, where possible, by a programme of public information, interpretation and marketing which emphasises the positive value of these areas for tourists, scientists and for educational purposes.They should be recognised as positive economic assets, and used as such. In the Joint Committee’s view the fund set up by the Regulation is far too small to be of more than symbolic value at present. The protection of raised bogs, especially Clara bog, County Offaly, is a conservation priority. The Joint Committee is apprehensive that, because of the paucity of the Community aid allocated and the likely competing demands on it from other, albeit worthy conservation projects, financial support under the Regulation to protect our few remaining undisturbed raised bogs may not, in fact, be available. It would like an assurance that this paramount aspect of our natural environment will not be neglected.

16. Unfortunately, increased industrialisation, in particular the development of boglands, is making inroads into the natural habitats of our endangered species of wild flora and fauna. The Joint Committee hopes that the Regulation can be used to strike a balance between the needs of industry on the one hand and the protection and preservation of our environment on the other. Despite the inadequacy of the financial provisions of the Regulation, the Joint Committee urges the preparation of a comprehensive programme of projects to qualify for Community aid under its provisions.

(c) Council Directive on the combating of air pollution from industrial plant — COM (83) 173 final

17. This Directive was agreed also on 1 March, 1984. Its purpose is to implement a series of measures and procedures designed to prevent and reduce air pollution from stationary industrial plant and is the first major Directive in this sphere. Henceforth the construction, use or substantial rebuilding of industrial plant which are especially likely to cause pollution, will be subject to prior authorisation. This authorisation may be granted only if the competent authority has ensured, inter alia, that all preventative measures, including the use of the latest available technology, have been taken and that the plant will not cause air pollution that will endanger human health or damage biological resources and ecosystems. The industries covered by the Directive are basically those relating to energy, metallurgy, non-metallic mineral product processing, waste disposal and certain chemical industries. In the case of existing plant in the industrial sectors outlined above, the Member States will apply policies and strategies so as to gradually adapt their plants to the latest available technology. The Directive also stipulates that the Council fix, where appropriate, EEC limit-values for polluting emissions.

Consideration of Directive

18. The Directive will become operative towards the middle of 1987. Its purpose is to prevent and reduce air pollution from industrial plant and it fits in with one of the fundamental objectives of Community environment policy, namely, to establish air quality standards and to control and reduce emissions. Though not specifically designed to solve the “acid rain” problem, the Directive can be seen as a step towards fufilling the obligation of parties to the Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution “to endeavour to limit and, as far as possible, gradually to reduce and prevent air pollution”.

The Directive lays down procedures for the control of emissions from plant which could cause air pollution. It lists specific plant which must be controlled by national legislation. The categories of plant covered are:—

(i)Energy industry (including thermal power stations with an output of more than 50 megawatts)

(ii)Production and processing of metals

(iii)Manufacture of non-metallic mineral products

(iv)Chemical industry

(v)Waste disposal

(vi)Plant for manufacture of paper pulp by chemical methods with a production capacity of 25,000 tonnes or more per year.

19. The Directive provides for an authorisation/licensing system which will oblige new plant to use the best available technology, which does not entail excessive costs, for preventing/reducing emissions. Insofar as existing plant are concerned the Directive requires (Article 13) controls to be applied on a phased basis taking into account factors such as the technical characteristics of the plants, their rate of utilisation and remaining life span, the nature and volume of pollution emissions from them and the relevant costs.

The Directive also provides (Article 8) for the fixing of Community emission limit values based on the best available technology not involving excessive costs and taking account of the nature, quantities and harmfulness of the emissions concerned. The decision to fix limit values will be one for the Council of Environment Ministers acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission, which will have to be supported by substantial scientific justification and take into account such questions as the nature of pollutants and the categories of plant involved. In addition, it would be expected that aspects such as the need to take account of differing environmental conditions, the extent to which trans-boundary air pollution may be involved, the problem of existing plant and the desirability of achieving balanced development will be considered.

20. Ireland is at a very early stage in the development of specific air pollution control legislation. To date, the need for such legislation has not been as great as in other countries, because of the geographical position of the island, climatic conditions and the relatively low rate of industrialisation. Emissions from new plant built in the last 20 years have been controlled by the Planning Acts under which conditions limiting emissions can be attached to permissions for new plant. The Directive will require the establishment of an entirely new system of authorisation by competent authorities and its implementation will require the enactment of an entirely new legislative framework for the control of air pollution. Preliminary work on a new code has been carried out in the Department of the Environment and this will be brought to a conclusion in a Bill to be brought before the Oireachtas as soon as possible.

21. The Directive is a framework Directive and it is not possible in the circumstances to estimate its effects on Irish industry without an indication of the emission limit values to be specified under Article 8 or in the absence of such limits, an indication of the criteria to be used by the competent authorities under Article 4 in granting authorisations under Article 3. Apart from thermal power stations and other large combustion installations, the other categories of industry covered by the Directive will not be affected to a significant degree by the Directive since industries in these categories should generally meet the most stringent international emission standards.

Views of the Joint Committee

22. The significance of this Directive, in the Joint Committee’s view, is that it introduces the principle of emission standards rather than the achievement of ambient standards. In the implementation of the Directive the Joint Committee urges that the principle of ambient standards be adopted except where there is a transboundary transfer problem. The use of emission standards, in the Joint Committee’s view, tends to favour those countries/regions which are already highly polluted and have no assimilative capacity remaining.

(d) Proposal for a Council Directive on the limitation of emissions of pollutants into the air from large combustion plant — COM (83) 704 final

23. This proposal, which has been formulated within the framework of the Directive on the Combating of Air Pollution from Industrial Plants above, aims to substantially reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and dust from large combustion installations. These installations are responsible for more than 80 per cent of all emissions of SO2 in the Community and for about 40 per cent of NOx emissions (an equal share of the NOx emissions are accounted for by motor vehicles). The proposal advocates the setting up of an overall objective for the reduction of total annual emissions from large combustion installations — 60 per cent for SO2, — 40 per cent for the NOx. The objective is to be achieved by the end of 1995 and it will be determined in comparison with the corresponding emissions for 1980. It is planned to introduce Community emission standards for these pollutants, to be respected by all new combustion installations of a certain thermal power, from 1985.

Consideration of Draft Directive

24. Preliminary work on the preparation of comprehensive new air pollution legislation has, as stated elsewhere in this Report, been carried out in the Department of the Environment, to be brought to completion as soon as possible. The implications of the draft Directive, if agreed, will require to be considered in the context of the ultimate proposals for legislation.

The implications of the proposal for this country are being studied in the Departments of the Environment, Energy and Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism. The proposal is largely inspired by a German regulation on large combustion installations which lays down the setting of standards which are binding on new and existing installations. The requirements of the draft Directive are more severe for high power units above the threshold of 300 MW. Within this category in the EEC generally are essentially electricity power stations, whereas in the range between 50-300 MW there is a high number of industrial boilers for the production of heat and heat/force. In the case of Ireland the body mainly affected by the proposal is the ESB.

25. The proposal has not yet been discussed at official working group level or by the Council of Ministers and it is not yet clear when discussion will commence. Theoretically there is now no obstacle to such commencement with the agreement at the March Council of the Directive on air pollution from industrial plants.

26. The problem of acid rain would appear to be caused essentially by the emission of SO2, NOx and other pollutants into the atmosphere and falling with rain having been borne certain distances by winds. The effect on forests and lakes and the related biosystems has been particularly severe on mainland Europe. Often the problem caused by one country’s heavy industry is suffered by a recipient country downwind of the offender. Though the prevailing winds are westerly or southwesterly in Ireland, easterly winds prevail for 20 to 30 per cent of the time. This being the case acid rain is occasionally blown from the Continent to the east coast.

There is not unanimity among scientific experts about the degree of acidity of “natural” rain. The Joint Committee is advised that its minimum acidity is probably at pH5.6 due to the carbon dioxide (CO2) content of the atmosphere. pH is a common measure of acidity, with pH7.0 being netural and lower pH meaning higher acidity. Further increase is possible by natural activity or human processes. Natural sources of acidic or potentially acidic compounds include lightning, vegetation decay, the sea and volcanic activity. These natural sources, particularly of nitrogen and sulphur compounds, are essential components of the biosphere. If there were none of these, it is unlikely that there would be life on earth. Man-made sources include all combustion of fossil fuels, other industrial processes, and agricultural activity. These activities generate compounds which can add to the acidity level of rain water, directly or indirectly. Sulphur-containing fuels produce SO2 when burnt. Levels of SO2 which are otherwise environmentally insignificant can produce increased acidity in rainfall through oxidation processes which are promoted principally by hydrocarbon compounds in the presence of light.

27. For over 10 years the Norwegians and Swedes have been complaining of increased acidification of rainfall and alleging consequent damage to their environment. It cannot be argued that they do not receive acidic precipitation (rain and snow). However, whether this has increased significantly in recent times is not fully proven. Acidity in rain in Europe has been attributed to transport of SOx from within and outside EEC countries.

28. Although not as important as in the case of the US, NOx also has a role in acid rain formation in Europe. Here the NOx from all fuels burnt (including “clean” natural gas) transforms to nitrogen dioxide and gives rise to nitric acid in the air. Adding to this are nitrogen compounds from fertilizer use, industrial processes and natural decay processes. Ultimately, however, the nitrogen compounds will be scavenged through the natural nitrogen cycle.

29. The initiative for the proposed Council Directive, as stated above, has come from the Federal Republic of Germany where it is alleged that acid rain is causing considerable damage to forests, lakes, agricultural crops and buildings. Accordingly, the Federal Republic has a particular interest in the advancement of the Commission’s proposals to combat acid rain. In Ireland the issue of acid rain is of particular interest to the ESB due mainly to the implication that electricity generating stations contribute significantly to its formation through the release of the waste products of fossil fuel combustion. In their submission to the Joint Committee the Board stated that two basic philosophies exist in controlling pollution from industrial plants:

(i)reduction of ambient levels of pollution by dilution through “tall enough” stack dispersion; and

(ii)removal of all or part of the pollutants prior to emission.

The Board’s representatives, when they appeared before the Joint Committee, stated that it has traditionally used the tall stack successfully to control ground level pollution concentrations from its power stations and that recent independent specialist investigations had confirmed the success of the Board’s tall stack policy. Calculated minimum ground level concentration of SO2 from ESB power stations are, according to the Board, well below the long-term goals set by the World Health Organisation. Actual performance is monitored by a comprehensive network of air pollution monitoring stations operated specifically for this purpose. Effects of Irish emissions on the Continent or in sensitive areas are, according to the Board, effectively nil — emissions are very low on a total and on a per capita basis and the distances involved allow for a substantial removal by deposition processes prior to arrival. Prediction by the Environmental Monitoring and Evaluation Programme Group, which monitors acid rain on an official basis, shows a zero contribution by Irish sources in Scandinavia. The Board submitted to the Joint Committee that urban air pollution is predominantly due to diverse low level sources, such as domestic fires, commercial and industrial sources and motor car exhaust gases. It feels that it would be counter-productive to insist on large-scale expensive emission control from power stations while failing to tackle these diverse sources of pollution.

Views of the Joint Committee

30. The Joint Committee was impressed by the steps being taken by the ESB to disperse pollutants through tall chimney stacks and their concern for the protection of the environment through regular monitoring of pollution levels. In view of the considerable controversy about the nature and causes of acid rain the Joint Committee urges that a cautious approach be taken to imposing stringent control procedures on industry and the ESB in particular, while the effectiveness of such control is not firmly established. The benefits of a control programme as proposed by the European Commission are not quantifiable owing to imperfections in the knowledge of both the mechanism of acid rain formation and its effects. The economic consequences for an underdeveloped expanding economy such as the Irish one are proportionately much more severe than for relatively stagnant developed ones. The gross ambient pollution in industrialised Community Member States e.g. the Ruhr, reflects a historically complacent attitude to pollution control. It appears to the Joint Committee that what is being proposed by the Commission is that countries such as Ireland are being asked to undertake expensive remedial procedures to rectify this neglect on the basis of doubtful scientific criteria and under the guise of Community competition policy. In their submission to the Joint Committee the ESB disputes the contention that a cut in SO2 emissions alone would alleviate the acid rain problem and contends that no case exists for this country adopting identical measures deemed so necessary for other European countries. It claims also that the proposal would impose huge cost increases on the company, particularly in respect of the coal burning station at Moneypoint, County Clare, to be commissioned next year. The cost of installing the necessary equipment to eliminate sulphur and nitrogen oxides from Moneypoint have been estimated by the Board to be as high as £145 million while the Board estimates that further capital costs of the order of £255 million would be involved in modifying all its power stations with a consequent increase in electricity charges to the consumer in excess of 20 per cent. A possible consequence of such an increase could be that more people would turn to solid fuel burning with more detrimental effects on air quality, particularly in the Dublin area. According to the Board, because of the size of the ESB system and lack of inter-connection with the rest of Europe, generating units must be small and plant margins proportionately large. There are very significant scale factors in the capital and operating costs of the kind of control equipment that would be required by the ESB under the proposed Directive so its cost per unit controlled would be higher.

31. A further factor of importance concerning acid rain formation, in the Joint Committee’s view, is the dominant role of East European countries in sulphur emissions. Reductions within the EEC can have negligible impact in the absence of action throughout Europe. In any case considering the chemistry of the acid rain formation process it would appear more relevant to tackle the supply of acidifying catalysts as, with their removal, acid production would drop greatly. Indeed even a fractional reduction, the Joint Committee is advised, would produce a parallel reduction in acid formation. Although certain sensitive areas in the Community appear to be definitely affected by acid rain, the blanket extrapolation of these effects to much wider regions is not justified by the available evidence. Accordingly, the Joint Committee feels that the whole area requires further detailed scientific study and evaluation. The EEC and most European countries have committed themselves to such research in the signing of the UN-ECE Convention of 1979 dealing with Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. More recently nine European countries — France, Germany, Sweden, Holland, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Austria and Norway — and Canada pledged on March 21 at a conference on acid rain held in Ottawa to reduce their emissions of sulphur by 30 per cent by 1993. The European Community was an observer at the meeting. Meanwhile, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has just adopted a work programme for the years 1984-1987 to review new discoveries in the field of research on acid rain and propose measures to prevent and rectify damage caused by atmospheric pollution on masonry, outer shells of buildings, coloured glass and paper — more victims of the plague of acid rain. The programme will assess both the extent to which goods are exposed to the risk of deterioration and the scale of effective damage and review methods of preventing and rectifying any damage incurred. It also provides for the drafting of Directives for monitoring chemical and biological changes in lakes and waterways caused by acidification and the development of a methodology for monitoring and assessing the effects of atmospheric pollution on soils, underground water and plant life. The Joint Committee will follow the progress of the working group with interest in the hope that a better scientific understanding of the plague of acid rain will be determined and that the threat to the environment will be minimised. The damage to the physical environment from acid rain in the Dublin area is very obvious. The Bank of Ireland had to undertake a very expensive renovation job to counter the effects of it. Such venerable institutions as Trinity College have not been spared.

32. Some problems previously attributed to SO2 and acid rain have been recently discounted. Damage to Bavarian forests supposedly caused by acid rain has been a major political issue in Germany and has resulted in legislative measures which largely form the basis of the Commission’s proposals set out in the draft Directive. However, recent research by an official body in Germany has identified ozone as a likely major cause of the damage to the forests in Bavaria in association with the effects of repeated drought, species selection and forest management, including fertilizer use.

33. The Joint Committee has given careful consideration to the effects of this proposal for heavy industry, particularly electricity generation. It feels that the case made by the ESB is convincing and that the longterm effect of the proposed Directive on electricity prices must be viewed critically. The Directive, if adopted, will bear particularly on coal-burning power stations. The emission standards will apply immediately to new plant while existing plant will have until 1995 to comply. The ESB made the point that at least 50 per cent of SO2 pollution is generated from low level emission, such as domestic fires and motor vehicles. The Joint Committee is satisfied that that assertion is not controverted.

34. The Joint Committee feels that the ESB, being unable to develop nuclear generating stations and scheduled to shed its use of natural gas, together with being without an inconnector facility with Continental Europe, is put in a very unenviable position. The use of natural gas for electricity generation causes low SO2 emission but the ESB are scheduled to lose their allocation of natural gas from the Kinsale field when the Moneypoint, County Clare generating station comes into operation next year. The use of more turf in electricity generation would afford some measure of relief. However, due to the Board’s programme for staff reduction, the future of turf-burning electricity generating stations may be threatened. The Joint Committee is very apprehensive of any measures, such as increased electricity charges, that are likely to blunt the cutting edge of our industrial drive into export markets and urges that serious consideration be given to the Irish position during negotiations in the Council. While the Joint Committee has devoted considerable thought to the economic argument against the adoption of the draft Directive in its present form, it does not wish to lose sight of the primary aim of the Commission’s proposal — the protection and rehabilitation of the environment. We do not know to what extent, if any, we are likely to suffer from SO2 and NOx imported by easterly winds. The westerlies do not always prevail, and we may have more of a problem from this source in the future than is now thought likely.

35. The Joint Committee feels that if this country adopts the approach of cutting back overall emissions, the draft Directive as proposed would lead to an economically inefficient use of the Community’s resources and would also be inequitable, inasmuch as it would penalise those countries which have been most punctilious about achieving reductions in emissions before 1980.

Although the flexibility allowed as to means of meeting the 1995 standard from existing sources within countries will result in a less inefficient outcome than if all plants had to cut back uniformly, nevertheless, since it does not allow for intercountry variation in response, the cost of compliance will be much higher than the least-cost approach, where those plants with the cheapest reduction possibilities take full advantage of them. Accordingly the Joint Committee feels that the imposition of an emission tax would be the most effective approach to reducing pollution from our point of view. On the basis of this approach the proportionate cost borne by Ireland would be less, by virtue of our fuel mix for electricity generation, than other countries. Other things being equal, the Joint Committee would argue that we could be at some comparative advantage in this respect. If an emission tax approach is not acceptable, then in computing the base from which reduction is required, as a fallback this country should argue for the use of the 1980 fuel usage which would have obtained if natural gas had not been used. The case can plausibly be made, in the Joint Committee’s view, that the allocation of natural gas to the ESB was a temporary expedient and that it would be unfair to penalise us on this account.

The Joint Committee would adduce the recommendations set out in the Community’s First Report on the State of the Environment (1977) which adumbrates the “polluter pays” principle in favour of the application of emission charges.

36. In relation to the ESB’s specification that an additional capital cost of £145 million would be required for adapting its Moneypoint, County Clare generating station to flue-gas desulphurisation, and an additional £255 million for similar treatment at its other stations the Joint Committee feels that there may be other procedures which would conform to the spirit, if not the letter, of the draft Directive. It would like to know, for instance, how much extra it would cost to reduce the average sulphur content of coal going into the Moneypoint generating station from the projected level of 1.6 per cent to 1.15 per cent which level would achieve an acceptable level of compliance with the Commission’s proposal. The Joint Committee feels that such alternative costings will have to be available should we have to make some concessions in the course of negotiations.

37. The Joint Committee is satisfied that the ESB has always been abreast of developments in technical progress in the field of pollution monitoring and prevention and that it has consciously and conscientiously worked to minimise the impact of emissions from its power stations on the environment. The Committee is somewhat sceptical of the assertion by the Board’s representatives, when they appeared before it, in favour of the “tall stack policy” as giving the best control over local air quality while making hardly any difference to the long range effects. The Joint Committee is aware of an equally plausible view which argues that there is a direct link between tall stack emissions and long range effects. Nevertheless, it welcomes the assurance that, if and when, a need arises for controls of the nature now proposed by the Commission, based on a proven environmental need, it will be prepared to adopt the most appropriate methods and technology to that end.

38. Exemption from the requirements of the Directive may be granted for a limited period for States whose aggregate annual SO2 emissions over the reference period are low compared with those of other Member States. The Joint Committee feels that this deferred implementation provision could be availed of to cushion the economic effects of the implementation of the draft Directive should it be adopted substantially in its present form.

In the light of the evidence available to it at present the Joint Committee recommends a critical circumspect approach to the adoption of the Community proposals as they stand, particularly in view of their implications for electricity charges and the economy in general.

(e) Proposal for a Council Regulation establishing a Community scheme to provide forests in the Community with increased protection against fire and acid rain — COM (82) 375 final

39. In relation to protection against fire the proposal involves the implementation of strict preventative measures, fire fighting measures and measures designed to increase the effectiveness of fire fighting and fire prevention.

On the acid rain front the Commission is proposing a phased reduction in the levels of pollutants generally regarded as responsible for acid rain. In essence it is proposing that Member States curb sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 60 per cent and nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 40 per cent and other pollutants by 40 per cent.

The proposal involves the setting up of a network of monitoring posts and also the setting up of multi-disciplinary teams of scientists to examine the problem from a forestry aspect.

Consideration of Regulation

40. Each year in the Community large stretches of forest are devastated by fire and this entails losses and heavy expenditure for the Member States concerned. In forestry terms alone, this situation is intolerable since the losses caused by fire reduce the productivity of Community forests, which is already insufficient. Forest fires also aggravate the Community’s trade deficit in timber and derived products and reduce the incomes of forestry holdings. In the wider context, forests make an important contribution to maintaining the balance of the environment, by their influence on the weather and the availability of water and by their protection of the soil. Any damage to the forests inevitably entails an imbalance harmful to the environment and to neighbouring agriculture. In the general socio-economic context, forests help many regions of the Community to attract tourism. The destruction of the forests eventually entails a move away from such regions, which are already suffering from a heavy loss of population and poses a threat to their general economy. It was against this background that the Commission framed its proposals.

Views of the Joint Committee

41. The Joint Committee welcomes the proposals to increase the effectiveness of protective measures against forest fires. In recent years Irish forests have been increasingly opened up to the public through the good offices of the Society of Irish Foresters with the ready co-operation of the Department of Fisheries and Forestry. The Joint Committee sees our forests and woodlands as an integral part of our environment and is pleased to note that attention to their conservation is being directed at the European level. It hopes that the proposals will contribute to the elimination of forest fires which scar our natural landscapes each year.

42. There are measures in the draft Regulation designed to encourage the pooling of fire fighting equipment by Member States and preventing transboundary fires. As Ireland is physically removed from the main body of the Community these measures are not particularly relevant to us. However, the Joint Committee is assured that co-operation exists along the border with Northern Ireland and that local ad hoc arrangements work satisfactorily.

43. The Joint Committee views with concern the threat to our forests from acid rain. It is satisfied that this phenomenon has not so far affected this country to any significant degree. There is no evidence to date that our forests have been damaged. This was confirmed by the Minister for Fisheries and Forestry in reply to a Parliamentary Question earlier this year. Nevertheless, the Joint Committee feels that because of the presence of easterly winds prevailing for 20-30 per cent of the time the possibility of acid rain on the east coast must be seriously entertained.

44. Acid rain can be neutralised by the soil. The reason for the pollution of lakes in Scandinavia by acid rain, the Joint Committee believes, could be the failure of the soil neutralising process due to the prevalence of snow and ice which gives rise to quick run-off of polluted rain water into the lakes. The Joint Committee is very concerned about the effectiveness of the acidity neutralising properties of Irish soil due to the reduced levels of lime application in Irish farming since 1978. However, it is pleased to note that this trend was reversed last year. The Joint Committee is confident that the measures proposed by the Commission to reduce emissions from industrial plant and large comment bustion plant, which have been considered above, should go a long way, if implemented, towards reducing the plague of acid rain.


45. The Joint Committee welcomes the attention being directed to the environment by the Community. Europe’s environment is menaced on two broad fronts — the natural environment (rivers, lakes, the atmosphere, wildlife, vegetation, etc.) and the man-made environment (towns, cities, etc.). In the natural environment by far the greatest problem is pollution. Pollution in consumption-oriented Europe derives from the creation of waste and its improper disposal. In the man-made environment the situation is, if anything, worse. Europe, already one of the most densely populated regions in the world, is in the throes of an urban explosion which, if allowed to continue unchecked, could lead eventually to the destruction of much that we value in our culture, heritage and society. Pollution, unfortunately, is no respecter of national boundaries and what happens in one country can have far-reaching effects in another. Europe, with its closely-knit pattern of states, is particularly exposed to this problem. Transfrontier pollution problems are not the only reason why environmental protection is often seen as a matter for international action. In the field of nature conservation and wildlife protection, for example, international co-operation is essential. Protection of migratory birds or endangered species by one country is a waste of time if they die from pollution or erosion of their natural habitats caused by another.

46. Many transfrontier problems in the environmental field can be settled bilaterally or multilaterally by the countries concerned but it is useful and often essential to have an international body like the Community in which problems can be raised and solutions reached. For this reason the Joint Committee generally welcomes the Community’s proposals to curb air pollution and to conserve and protect the environment. At a time of economic recession it is not always easy to engender support, particularly financial support, for environmental conservation. With the advent of labour-saving technology greater emphasis is being placed on leisure and this highlights the importance of a clean and welcoming environment. In Ireland, we have not the dense concentration of industry as is found in mainland Europe with the result that we have a valuable natural asset still intact. Problems encountered on the Continent such as acid rain cannot be ignored simply because there is no significant visible evidence of their effects in this country at the moment, as the problem is getting worse and may well affect us in a short time. It is interesting to note that Northern Scotland and Wales now have evidence of acid rain damage which could not have been predicted. Europe’s problem is also our problem.

Of the measures considered by the Joint Committee in this Report, the proposed Directive on large combustion plants is, by order of magnitude, the proposal with the greatest financial significance in the short/medium term for this country. It is also likely to be the most important measure at our disposal to protect and conserve our environment. The Joint Committee is, however, anxious that measures introduced are fair and equitable. It has sympathy with the case made by the ESB which, for many reasons outside its control, including unalterable considerations like small plant size, no interconnection, no nuclear facilities, obliges the Irish consumer to pay an already high price for electricity. For similar reasons, in the Board’s view, the cost of SO2 removal equipment for Irish power stations would be proportionately much higher than for elsewhere under the Commission’s proposals as they stand. The recent costings, undertaken by the ESB which indicated that allowing for the capital costs and also the very high operational costs in terms of energy consumption, raw materials, waste disposal, etc., the cost of electricity could increase by more than 20 per cent under the Commission’s proposals, strike a note of warning. Such potential costs are obviously unacceptable, particularly as there appears to be no reliable empirical scientific evidence that they will produce a measurable benefit for the Irish or European environment. The Joint Committee feels that the Board’s contention that it is even quite possible that Dublin’s air quality would deteriorate due to energy substitution effects consequent on the adoption of the Community’s proposals for the control of emissions from power stations, deserves serious consideration. In the fight against pollution such measures as controls on vehicle emissions could, in the Joint Committee’s opinion, assist considerably. Liming of acidified lakes is a cheap interim measure which could be used in many cases to minimise fishery damage pending further research.

47. The Joint Committee wishes to state that it does not underestimate the task posed by environmental protection and conservation. A very fine balance exists between the needs of the consumer on the one hand and the interests of the conservationist on the other. It is of the opinion that education programmes can be of great assistance towards removing the conflict between these two competing demands and that through this medium they can be reconciled in the interests of the Community.

48. On the subject of acid rain, the evidence of its source and causation is still a matter of scientific controversy. The Joint Committee is reluctant to recommend expensive protection measures on such major undertakings as the ESB without well researched evidence that control of such undertakings would make a substantial and meaningful contribution to removing pollution. The record of the ESB in its concern for the environment is praiseworthy and weight should be given to its views in the matter of the Community proposals. Expensive controls on the ESB mean expensive electricity and this percolates into the cost structure of Irish manufacturers who are already facing a difficult time.

49. The Joint Committee does not wish to align itself with any attempt to diminish the sterling objectives of the Commission to create a clean environment. It feels that by way of compromise the imposition of a charge per unit of pollutant emitted might well be a much better approach to reducing polluting emissions from our point of view, because as already argued, in relative terms, it would penalise most those countries which emit the most and thereby enshrine the “polluter pays” principle in the Community’s proposals. In the final analysis the derogation provisions of the proposals and measures already adopted, should be carefully considered in order to phase in any control mechanisms agreed upon so as to avoid any serious dislocation of our economy.

50. Finally, the Joint Committee hopes that the financial provisions of the measures it has considered will, where appropriate, be availed of to the full so that our natural and man-made environment can be preserved and fostered for the enjoyment of all Community citizens.


Chairman of the Joint Committee.

11th April, 1984.