Britain taken to court by European Commission over air pollution

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The European Commission on Thursday sent six countries to Europe's highest court for failing to meet EU air quality standards, escalating a long-running process by Brussels.

The other three countries being taken to court, Hungary, Italy and Romania, are being referred over particulate matter levels.

Says Commissioner for Environment, Karmenu Vella: "The Member States referred to the Court today have received sufficient "last chances" over the last decade to improve the situation".

The EU Commission had sent letters to countries and cities exceeding air pollution levels repeatedly but with the member states having failed to act, they will now be taken to court.

We continue to meet European Union air quality limits for all pollutants apart from NO2, and data shows we are improving thanks to our efforts to bring levels of NO2 down.

The British government faces huge fines from the European Court of Justice for failing to curb air pollution linked to thousands of early deaths in Britain every year.

"We will shortly build on our £3.5bn plan to tackle roadside emissions with a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy setting out a wide range of actions to reduce pollution from all sources".

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"The commission had to conclude that. that the additional measures proposed are not sufficient to comply with air quality standards as soon as possible", Vella said.

Pressure has increased on Italy's environment minister ahead of a crucial meeting in Brussels after the World Health Organisation revealed that three Italian cities are the worst in Europe in terms of air pollution and smog.

ClientEarth CEO, James Thornton, said: "On top of our three successful cases, today's legal action from the European commission is more damning evidence of the mountain the United Kingdom government still has to climb to bring air pollution to within legal limits". In our joint inquiry into air quality, we found little evidence of the decisive steps needed to protect the public.

EU law obliges member states, in accordance with the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive, to maintain air quality standards and limit values for PM10, which may not exceed an annual average of 40 µg/m3 and 50 µg/m3 per day.

The Luxembourg-based court can impose heavy fines. But legal action alone will not solve the problem.

Also on Thursday, in the continuing fall-out from the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal, the European commission issued renewed warnings to the UK, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg over their alleged failure to "have effective and dissuasive penalty systems in place to deter auto manufacturers from breaking the law".

Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska underlined the role that Europe's auto industry has in fighting urban pollution.

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