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Industrial Emissions Directive To Be Amended

The Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) regulates the environmental impacts of approximately 52,000 of Europe’s large-scale industrial installations and livestock farms (‘agro-industrial installations’) in an integrated manner, on a sector-by sector basis. It covers all relevant pollutants potentially emitted by agro-industrial installations that affect human health and the environment. Installations regulated by the IED account for about 20% of the EU’s overall pollutant emissions by mass into the air, around 20% of pollutant emissions into water and approximately 40% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Activities regulated by the IED include refining, waste treatment and incineration, metal production, cement, glass, chemicals, pulp and paper, food and drink, power plants, and the intensive rearing of pigs and poultry. An installation regulated by the IED may carry out several IED activities (e.g., cement production and waste co-incineration).

The IED was transposed into Irish legislation via the European Union (Industrial Emissions) Regulations 2013 which amended the First Schedule of the EPA Act to include activities that are licensable in line with Annex I of the IED. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the competent licensing authority for the implementation of the IED in Ireland. There are currently over 800 IED regulated facilities in Ireland.

The IED underwent an evaluation in 2020 which concluded that it was generally effective in preventing and controlling pollution into air, water and soil from industrial activities, and in promoting the use of Best Available Techniques (BAT). The IED has substantially reduced emissions of pollutants into the air and, to a lesser extent, water emissions. It has also led to reductions in emissions to the soil from IED installations. Although its impacts on resource efficiency, circular economy and innovation are harder to assess, the IED appears to have made a positive contribution overall. The implementation of the IED has also led to improvements in other aspects such as public access to information and access to justice.

However, the 2020 evaluation also identified several areas for improvement. It showed that, while it provides a sound framework, the implementation of the IED is not consistent across Member States, with different levels of ambition preventing the instrument from fully delivering on its objectives. These challenges undermine the capacity of the IED to reduce the environmental pressures exerted by agro-industrial installations and to set a level playing field that provides a high level of protection of human health and the environment.

On 5th April 2022, the European Commission proposed a revision of the IED in order to enhance its contribution to the objectives of the EU Green Deal.

Below are some of the key aims of the proposed amendment to the IED:

i. Improve IED effectiveness in preventing or, when impractical, minimising the emission of pollutants by installations at source, as evidenced by continued or accelerated decreasing trends of emission levels, to avoid or reduce adverse impacts on health and the environment, taking into account the state of the environment in the area affected by these emissions;

ii. Ensure that private individuals have access to information, participate in decision-making, and have access to justice in relation to permitting/licensing, operation and control of the regulated installations;

iii. Clarify and simplify the legislation and reduce administrative burden while promoting consistency of implementation by the Member States;

iv. The periodic review and, where necessary, update of licence conditions to ensure compliance with relevant environmental quality standards;

v. Tightening the rules applying in cases of breaches of licence conditions and broadening the powers of the competent authority to suspend an installation’s operations until compliance is restored;

vi. Provide greater emission reductions by ensuring that competent authorities set emission limit values at the lowest end of the BAT-AEL ranges, unless the operator demonstrates that applying BAT as described in the BAT Conclusions only allows meeting less strict emission limit values;

vii. Promote the uptake of innovative technologies and techniques during the ongoing industrial transformation, by revising BAT reference documents (BREFs) without delay, when there is evidence that better performing innovative techniques become available, and ensuring permits/licences support leaders in innovation;

viii. Support the transition towards the use of safer and less toxic chemicals, improved resource efficiency (energy, water and waste prevention) and greater circularity.

Perhaps the most significant impacts to licensees will be the increased powers of the EPA to suspend activities at licensed sites until compliance is restored; the Agency’s responsibility to set emission limit values at the lowest end of the BAT-AEL ranges, leading to stricter emission limit values for licensees to operate in compliance with; and the potential for more frequent licence reviews to reflect changes to regulations and standards.

The EPA is currently facing significant challenges in processing IE licence applications in Ireland. The current licence application process typically takes 2-3 years to complete, from the date of application to the date of final determination. The proposed widening of the scope of the IED may cause further delays in the IE licensing process in Ireland.

The European Commission proposal to amend the IED and associated annexes can be found here.

June 2024