A report on the implementation of the 1996 Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) directive published this month by the Commission said the low number of operating permits for plantsmight mean companies will not be given enough time to comply with the environmental standards by the October 2007 deadline.
The report also indicates that member states are applying the law inconsistently, providing an unfair competitive advantage for some companies. The Commission is also launching a review of the directive,but only to clarify its implementation and not as a means of backing down on its environmental goals, said the EU's environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas.
"Nine years after the adoption of this major piece of legislation and two years before the deadline for its full application, many installations do not yet comply with the conditions setout," Dimas stated.
All installations covered by the IPPC directive, including food manufacturers, must possess their permits to operate using a standard set of best available processing techniques by the October 2007deadline.
The BATs, as they are called, are a set of techniques agreed upon by the European Commission, various governments, industry and consumer associations that may be used by plants in reducing theirpollution. In general, manufacturing plants will have to follow the techniques if they want permits to build or operate.
Last week the EU's food industry association endorsed for the first time a set of common techniques for reducing the sector's water consumption, effluent discharges, energy use and wastegeneration.
New plant installations and those undergoing reconstruction have been obliged to comply with the directive since October 1999. Existing installations must be brought into conformity by 30 October2007.
The IPPC directive aims to regulate and limit harmful emissions to air, water and land from major industrial operations such as factories, energy-generation plants and large farms. The reportcovers the 2000-2002 period and thus only the EU's 15 original members, where 45,000 plants and installations fall under the scope of the directive.
During the reporting period, 5,545 installations, or about 13 per cent of those covered, were granted permits as new installations or due to substantial changes, the Commission found.
"The Commission did not receive detailed information on the number of permits issued for existing installations, but the limited data available point to significant variations within theEU15 and to limited progress in the number of permits issued," the report stated.
Generally, the directive has been transposed into member states laws with considerable delays, the report notes. The Commission has launched infringement procedures against Belgium, Denmark,France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Spain, claiming they did incorrectly transposed the directive into national law.
In 2004 the European Court of Justice ruled that Austria's revision of its legislation to conform with IPPC was "incomplete", marking the first time a state had been brought before judgesunder IPPC.
The Commission says it will establish an advisory group to consult with governments and other participants, including industry. In 2006, the Commission plans to organise a public hearing onreviewing IPPC. The review will be concluded in 2007 and if necessary make proposals to amend the legislation.
The review will look at streamlining and clarifying the legislation. It will also assess the use of market-based instruments to strengthen the implementation of the directive.
The Confederation of the food and drink industries of the EU (CIAA) has called upon the Commission and the bloc's parliament to clarify what it calls "ambiguities" in the IPPC directive.Revision also needs to be made to better define the scope of activities and installations it covers, the CIAA stated in a commentary.
Under IPPC member states must ensure that permits for industrial processes include emission limit values based on BATs. The permits do not prescribe the use of any techniques or specifictechnology. They take into account the technical characteristics of the installation concerned, its geographical location and the local environmental conditions.
So far, 27 out of 32 BAT reference documents have been agreed upon. The reference documents will be regularly updated to include an technological developments.
The food industry's BAT for food, drink and milk processing plants pinpoints water consumption, effluent discharges, energy use and waste generation as the most common environmental impacts acrossthe food and drink sectors.