Industrial emissions contribute to air pollution at local, regional and international scales either directly or indirectly (e.g. through chemical reactions in the atmosphere in the case of air pollution). This can lead to negative impacts on human health and ecosystems.
Many industrial processes are regulated through an industrial permitting system to avoid or minimise environmental impacts. The key permitting legislation is the EU Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) (2010/75/EC). Other EU legislation includes the Medium Combustion Plant (MCP) Directive (2015/2193/EC), and the Stage l and Stage ll Petrol Vapour Recovery Directives (1994/63/EC and 2009/126/EC respectively). The IED and other EU legislation are implemented through the Environmental Permitting Regulations in England and Wales (EPR), and other legal instruments in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Chimney height approval and smoke
In general, these controls apply to activities that are not regulated under the EPR. Under the Clean Air Act 1993 (and similar legislation in Northern Ireland), approval of chimney height is required to prevent emissions impacting health or causing a nuisance. Dark smoke emissions from chimneys and furnaces are generally prohibited. There are also emission limits set for ‘grit and dust’ from solid and liquid fuel furnaces. Open burning (bonfires) on industrial or trade premises (including demolition sites) is also prohibited, except in very limited circumstances. In designated smoke control areas, there are additional controls on smoke emissions.
EPR (and comparable legislation for Northern Ireland and Scotland) covers a wide range of industries, including fuel production and power generation, metal production and processing, mineral industries, chemical industries, solvent processes, waste disposal and recycling, food and drink processing, and intensive livestock installations. All industries covered by EPR must obtain a permit to operate from the appropriate regulator. For major activities, the permit will cover all aspects of an installation’s operation, including noise and vibration, heat, energy efficiency and accident prevention policy. For other activities, the permit will only cover aspects relating to emissions to air.
For new or exiting installations where there is a significant variation to the process and/or activity, an environmental impact assessment must also be available.
Permit conditions are based on the use of best available techniques (BAT), which balance the cost to operators against benefits to the environment. Where a breach of legally binding EU air quality limit values is caused by a particular industrial installation, more stringent permit limits than BAT must be imposed.
In England and Wales certain installations are regulated for emissions to air, water and land by the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales respectively. Smaller or less complex installations are regulated by local authorities. All such installations in Scotland and Northern Ireland are regulated by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency respectively.
A number of smaller installations are regulated for their emissions to air only. These installations include many solvent using processes, timber activities and crematoriums, and are regulated by local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and by SEPA in Scotland.
Industrial Emissions Directive
Environmental permits of installations covered by Chapter II of the IED must be based on the legal definition of BAT – the ‘BAT conclusions’. Following publication of BAT conclusions, the permit will be revised and has to be compliant within 4 years unless the operator and regulator agree a derogation application.
Visit http://eippcb.jrc.ec.europa.eu/ for further information about IED and the BAT conclusions.
Other parts of IED set minimum requirements for waste incineration plant and solvent activities that need to be incorporated into EPR and other permits. There are also some subtleties in EPR (e.g. the application in Wales of BAT controls (in addition to minimum requirements derived from IED) for small waste incineration plant and solvent activities).
Some installations have the potential to contribute significantly to breaches of an EU Air Quality limit or target. Where this is the case, the UK regulators will seek what improvements need to be made to meet BAT or other appropriate compliance measures operators need to put in place with regard to their industrial emissions.
The MCP Directive was published on the 25 November 2015 and concerns the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from medium combustion plants. It passed into UK law on the 19 December 2017. The MCP Directive plugs the gap between the IED and the Ecodesign Directive (2009/125/EC).
It will apply to all operators and owners of combustion plant rated between 1MW and 50MW thermal input. The rules are intended to apply to new and existing equipment. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, additional controls on ‘specified generators’ were introduced alongside the transposition of the MCPD. Visit https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/psc/mcp-and-sg-regulations for further information on the MCP Directive and the Specified Generator Regulations.
The National Emissions Ceiling Directive
The National Emission Ceilings Directive (NECD) (2016/2284/EC) sets national emission reduction commitments for Member States and the EU for five important air pollutants: nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), sulfur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). These pollutants contribute to poor air quality, leading to significant negative impacts on human health and the environment.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is considering the need for further controls on industry to help achieve the reductions required to comply with the emission ceilings.