EU conservatives score big win on industrial emissions rules

The European Parliament votes to water down rules targeting pollution from large industrial plants.

EU conservatives score big win on industrial emissions rules

As the EU bubble frets over an upcoming vote on hotly contested plans to boost nature restoration, a lesser-known Green Deal law suffered a major blow, handing a big win to conservative EU parties.

Lawmakers in the European Parliament’s plenary on Tuesday voted to significantly water down the European Commission’s proposal to revise the bloc’s industrial emission rules, pushing to lower the number of targeted farms and exclude cattle farms altogether.

The result is a clear win for farmers’ groups and their conservative and right-wing political allies — chief among them the European People’s Party, which has been pushing hard to water down key green legislation and portray itself as defending farmers’ interests ahead of next year’s European election.

“Support for farmers at last!” EPP lawmaker Benoît Lutgen, who led work on the file in the agriculture committee, tweeted after the vote.

The vote follows a fierce fight over how many farms should fall under the revised rules.

In its initial proposal, the Commission suggested broadening the scope of the Industrial Emissions Directive to include more commercial farms, including cattle farms, in a bid to align the legislation with Green Deal goals.

According to the EU executive, the revised rules would cover about 13 percent of the EU’s commercial farms — representing 60 percent of the EU’s livestock ammonia emissions and 43 percent of its methane emissions.

But the move sparked strong pushback from the industry, member countries and the EPP, which argued that the proposal will overburden small and mid-sized family farms.

The debate mirrors the tensions surrounding the EU’s proposal for a Nature Restoration Law, a key pillar of the bloc’s Green Deal that faces a decisive vote in Parliament on Wednesday. The EPP has been pushing to kill the bill, saying it would have detrimental consequences for EU farmers and jeopardize food security.

In their plenary vote on Tuesday, lawmakers pushed to exclude cattle from industrial emissions rules altogether, adopting a position defended by the Parliament’s agriculture committee.

The revised rules should only apply to farms with more than 40,000 places for poultry, 2,000 places for production pigs or 750 places for sows, as well as to farms of 750 livestock units, according to the Parliament. Those thresholds are significantly higher than those suggested by the Commission, which suggested including farms with at least 150 livestock units.

The Parliament “dramatically improved” the rules, according to the EPP’s Peter Liese.

A ‘castrated’ Green Deal

The Industrial Emissions Directive — which is over a decade old — currently regulates some 50,000 of the EU’s largest industrial installations, from steelworks to meat-processing plants and requires them to comply with binding limits for pollutants such as sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides.

Proponents of an ambitious revision have argued that the Commission’s proposal would help the bloc meet its climate targets.

“Everything that isn’t climate or energy is somehow … it’s all being politicized,” said Green lawmaker Jutta Paulus during a debate on Monday evening ahead of the vote.

“If we continue this way, we’re not going to meet any of our climate goals,” she warned. “We’re not going to meet our biodiversity goals, we’re not going to meet our zero pollution goals, and then the Green Deal is essentially castrated.”

Miguel Ángel Zhan Dai, climate policy officer at NGO Four Paws, said Tuesday’s vote delivered “one of the most disappointing and least ambitious initiatives of this term.”

The Parliament, he said, has “decided to prioritize the interest of a few, the most polluting few, above the protection of biodiversity, animal welfare and public health.”

Lawmakers also adopted new amendments from the EPP weakening provisions that would make it easier for potential victims of industrial pollution to claim compensation. NGOs had previously hailed those new provisions as a “major breakthrough” in the Commission’s proposal.

Bellinda Bartolucci, a senior lawyer at ClientEarth, called Tuesday’s result “genuinely alarming,” arguing that MEPs “totally gutted the all-important compensation right, which should be the core of a law designed to protect people.”

Member countries, which adopted their stance on the file in March, are also calling for less ambitious rules than the EU executive. The three institutions will now kick off negotiations on the file.