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EU Commission takes legal action against UK over air pollution

The European Commission [official website] on Thursday commenced legal proceedings [press release] against the UK for failing to maintain air level standards. According to air pollution legislation [materials], nitrogen dioxide limits should have been met by January 1, 2010, unless given an extension until January 1, 2015. The directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air in Europe requires member states to remain in compliance with with hourly and annual limit values for nitrogen dioxide. Should a member state's nitrogen dioxide levels fall above those requirements, the state has a duty to create a plan that would minimize the time spent above mandated levels. Though the UK was granted an extension, the requirements provide that the extension will only be granted with countries that have a credible and workable plan for meeting air quality standards by January 1, 2015. Because the UK failed to produce such a plan, the Commission determined that it was in breach of its duties and sent formal notice to the UK. The UK must respond within two months. Nitrogen dioxide, emitted by road vehicles, power generation, industrial activity and other sources, is harmful to the environment and human health. Other parts of Europe are also facing legal action due to their air quality, and the Commission is currently taking action against 17 states in which there are serious air quality problems. The Commission is responsible for ensuring that EU law is applied throughout all member states.

In May 2010 the UK Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the government has been failing to meet EU air quality standards and reached out to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] for guidance. This was the first time that the court has addressed the problem with air pollution in the UK, which may contribute to as many as 29,000 early deaths a year [Reuters report]. The court specifically addressed the violation of the air quality directive concerning nitrogen dioxide, determining that the UK exceeds the limit in 40 out of 43 of its air quality zones. The European Commission decided to pursue legal action [JURIST report] against the UK for air pollution in 2010 after the Commission rejected the UK's request for an exemption of the Greater London Area because it failed to show that it would reach the limit value by 2011. The EC first launched actions [JURIST report] for clean air law violations in 2009.

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