Select Committee on European Communities Eleventh Report

Recent Developments


15. When we embarked on this enquiry, we were made aware by the DETR of the German Presidency's interest not only in taking forward the proposed amendment to the Hazardous Waste Incineration Directive (HWID) (paragraph The Commission takes the view that this situation is anomalous, and could lead to transboundary shipments of waste from areas with stringent controls to those with lower standards of environmental protection. It also considers that, whilst an increase in the quantity of waste generated, combined with a decreasing use of landfill and the banning of sea dumping of sewage sludge, will mean greater amounts of waste being incinerated over the coming years, recent technological advances make it possible to achieve improved standards of emission abatement in a cost-effective manner. This led it in November 1997 to propose an amendment to Directive 94/67/EC which would set equivalent limits for the emission of hazardous substances into water and set specific emission limit values for the pollutants contained in the wastewater generated by the exhaust gas cleaning systems of hazardous waste incineration plants. (This proposal, which the Committee cleared last year, is still under discussion in the Council but is not further considered in this Report.) above) concurrently with the new Waste Incineration Directive (WID), but also in a more thorough-going consolidation of Community legislation in this field—a move supported by the European Parliament. We took the opportunity to ask witnesses to comment on this proposition. In a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum (SEM) of 9 April 1999, the DETR confirmed the Presidency was going ahead with its proposition, but expressed doubts whether it would achieve its previously stated aim of securing a Common Position at the Environment Council meeting of 24-25 June. At the time of reporting, we understand that the most that is likely to be achieved is a degree of political agreement on the idea of consolidating the incineration measures, based on a somewhat roughly assembled compromise text by the Presidency, after which the Commission is expected to produce its own consolidated text.

16. The Government's position is one of support for merger from the point of view of administrative simplicity, but also of concern that this could lead to delays in implementing the existing HWID and hold up progress on the WID proposals. In the SEM, the Minister (Mr Michael Meacher) says that if a merger is to go ahead, "a simple fusing together of the texts does little to achieve administrative benefits, and has potential for complicating the provisions". He considers that "integration" is to be preferred; and that where the standards and requirements for hazardous waste incinerators are less stringent than those in the proposed WID, the Government generally supports a move towards tighter standards, but within the timescales contained in the WID proposals.

17. Enclosed with the SEM are a series of reports by consultants ENTEC, together with the Department's Regulatory and Environmental Impact Assessment (REIA) based on the reports. This material arrived too late to be considered in detail as part of the enquiry, although we were able to refer to earlier drafts of the consultants' reports.

18. For the purposes of this Report, the most significant feature to emerge from the REIA and the consultants' work is the extreme difficulty of quantifying the benefits to be had from the proposals—particularly for human health, which we regard as being of crucial importance to policy in this field. The REIA estimates that after alignment of HWID to WID standards, reductions in emissions of ozone, sulphur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter would result each year in the deferment of nearly 60 deaths in the UK and the avoidance or deferment of some 110 respiratory hospitalisations. However, the calculations explicitly exclude the "unquantified benefits" of reductions in chronic health effects, in health effects directly due to oxides of nitrogen (NOx), or in health effects due to dioxins and certain heavy metals, as well as excluding other morbidity effects apart from the respiratory ones mentioned; while on the environmental front they exclude reductions in ecosystem damage due to acidification, in the risk of surface water, groundwater and soil contamination, and in environmental risks generally.


19. At the first reading stage, the European Parliament adopted on 14 April 1999 a number of amendments to the WID proposals, following a report by its Committee on Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection. The general effect of the amendments would be to tighten considerably many of the standards proposed by the Commission. The Commission's response to the amendments has yet to emerge, and may now be delayed by the proposals for consolidation, but it seems likely that it will wish to stand by its original proposals and that the Council will generally support it. Because of the coming into effect of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the proposals will now fall to be dealt with under the co-decision procedure[11], which gives the Parliament an enhanced role in the legislative process and ultimately the power to block the proposals if a compromise with the Council cannot be reached. With the prospect of the Commission coming forward with a new consolidated text, it seems likely that the new Parliament will wish to re-start the process with a fresh first reading, but this remains to be seen.

11   The proposal was initially brought forward under Article 130s(1) EC. That Article was amended and re-numbered by the Amsterdam Treaty. Article 175 now requires co-decision for the adoption of Community environmental measures. The co-decision procedure is set out in Article 251 EC. To become law, both the Council and the EP must adopt the Directive. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999