The murky world of Europe’s biggest polluters

New research has revealed that European countries are failing to make crucial information about the biggest sources of industrial pollution available to the public, despite an EU law that says it must be posted online.

European citizens are entitled to information about all large industrial plants, and the permits issued to allow them to operate under the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive. But campaigners say this law is being widely ignored.

A new EEB report – ‘Burning: The Evidence’ – into access to industrial pollution information reveals the extent of Member States’ failure to effective share information.

While most countries were found to be performing very badly, Ireland and Norway were rated as having ‘excellent’ websites and Bulgaria was also commended.

The report’s co-author, EEB Policy Manager for Industrial Production Christian Schaible said:

“It’s important that this information is publicly available so that concerned citizens can find out what’s going on in the factory or power plant behind their houses – or near their children’s schools. It also helps to drive up industrial standards and reduce pollution overall, as citizens and environmental NGOs can compare the conditions set in permits across Europe.”

Campaign groups have used publicly available information from one plant to push for reductions in pollution from others; a tactic that Schaible argues is also backed by an important matter of principle:

“Why should a coal plant in Spain be allowed to pollute more than one in the Netherlands?  Or a factory in Hamburg more than one in Munich? Making this information public allows us to push for stricter conditions and creates a ‘race to the top’ for environmental standards. If it’s possible for industry in one part of the EU to reduce their impact on the environment, then it’s also possible elsewhere.”

What Schaible sees as being fair from an environmental point of view also has important implications for business, as ensuring a fair and level playing field within the single market means that all plants should meet the same strict conditions. Put simply, factories making the same products for the same market should be subject to the same rules.

An oversight of the report’s key findings is presented on an interactive map.

The full report, Burning: The Evidence, can be downloaded here.