Pollution lands Norway in court

The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) has summoned Norway for air quality breaches

Photo: Ruben de Rijcke / Wikimedia Commons Automobile exhaust gas is one source of air pollution.

Photo: Ruben de Rijcke / Wikimedia Commons
Automobile exhaust gas is one source of air pollution.

Michael Sandelson and Sarah Bostock
The Foreigner

EEA legislation has established legally binding limits for certain airborne pollutants that may pose a threat to public health. Public authorities are required to set up plans on how air quality can be improved, and legal action can be taken if legally binding pollution limits are exceeded. Municipalities are responsible for this in Norway.

Norwegian diplomat and ESA president Oda Helen Sletnes told VG why the Authority has decided to refer Norway to the EFTA Court: “The figures that ESA has obtained from Norwegian authorities have shown that the level of harmful emissions is too high in several places. Norway has implemented measures to deal with pollution, but we are not satisfied with progress,” she wrote in an email last week.

ESA sent Norway’s Ministry of the Environment a letter of formal notice in 2013. This was in relation to non-compliance with limit values for NO2 (Nitrogen Dioxide), PM10 (Particulate Matter up to 10 micrometers in size) and SO2 (Sulphur Dioxide).

Conservative Party (H) Environment Minister Tina Sundtoft commented to NRK then that “we must do what we can so we do not end up in the EFTA Court for this. Norway must take responsibility, which the municipalities and state must do in tandem.”

ESA delivered a reasoned opinion to Norway in March this year concerning breaches of EEA legislation in relation to the EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directive.

The Authority argued that many citizens in Norway’s cities were exposed to pollution at high levels, in which Norway “had failed to establish concrete plans to address the problems.”

Norway had requested an extension of the deadline to meet required concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in four specified areas: Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, and in the Western Zone. Stavanger, Norway’s fourth-largest city is located in this zone.

ESA accepted Norway’s request regarding NO2 levels and Bergen. This gave the Scandinavian country up until January 1, 2015, to meet limit values for this.
“In relation to the remaining three areas, the Authority has decided to reject the request. For both Trondheim and the Western Zone, the Authority considered that an extension was unnecessary, as the limit values had been complied with in 2012. In the case of Oslo, the information provided by the Norwegian Government showed that even with an extension, there was unlikely to be compliance with the limit values before 2025,” the Authority stated.

ESA published an update regarding Norway on Friday, Dec. 19. In it, officials wrote that “although there has been some action in Norway to address air pollution, EEA requirements are not being fulfilled within a reasonable timeframe. Consequently, the Authority has decided to refer the case to the EFTA Court.”

Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment officials remark to The Foreigner in an email that “in Norway, it is the local municipalities who have the responsibility of improving air quality.”

“They have a long list of available policies and measures that they can use to improve air quality, like congestion pricing, higher tolls on days with high pollution, lower speed limits and other permanent and temporary measures. Several measures are already in place, and generally the air quality has improved.”

Minister of Climate and Environment Tine Sundtoft says that municipalities could make even better use of the available regulatory measures.

“Norway is not alone having problems with the limit values in the directive. Air pollution is a widespread problem across the EEA, particularly in big cities, where emissions from diesel cars are a major contributor to poor air quality. The European Commission is currently pursuing similar infringement proceedings against several EU Member States,” they conclude.

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit theforeigner.no.

It also appeared in the Jan. 9, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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