Environmental groups have responded with anger and demanded an apology after the president of a corporate lobby group called for them to be “isolated” in crucial talks this week. The remarks were made in an email and reported by ENDSEurope after it was revealed that ‘updated’ rules for waste incineration plants were in some cases weaker than existing guidelines.

More than 80 million tons of waste is burnt in Europe every year, which campaigners warn is incompatible with the aim of moving to ‘circular economy’ – where waste is prevented and products reused or recycled.

Burning waste also produces toxic pollution that is harmful to human health and the environment.

The EEB report “A Wasted Opportunity” revealed how proposals being discussed at a meeting this week are set to weaken existing guidelines by increasing the maximum emissions levels for toxic pollutants. The report also calls on the European Commission to improve the draft, including by tightening emissions levels and removing flexibilities from the new rules that will be legally binding for operators.

When the report was published authour Aliki Kriekouki said:

“People in Europe expect the EU to have the world’s best environmental standards, yet after three years of work to update the rules for waste incineration, we’re stuck with a proposal that makes some progress but falls short of boosting the deployment of effective, readily available technologies that prevent or minimise harmful pollution.

The proposals raise maximum emissions levels for Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), mercury and dust compared to a 2006 version of the same document.

For example, the maximum level for the dangerous neurotoxin mercury is raised from 20 to 25 μg/Nm3, despite the fact that established techniques exist that can cut emission to a fraction of this level. The report even lists three plants that emit less than 0.1 μg/Nm3.

Industry voices reacted furiously to the report’s publication.

Edmund Fleck, President of the waste incineration association lobby group ESWET, said in an email to colleagues that environmentalists were telling “lies” and had “disqualified” themselves from the process to draft new rules. According to ENDS, the email “…suggested participants in the talks should “isolate” environmental campaigners and “unilaterally oppose” anything they say.

Fleck later told ENDS that the email was “spontaneous and emotional” and the statement was not made as ESWET president.

EEB Industrial Policy manager Christian Schaible said:

“A spontaneous response is often one that reveals an individual’s true thoughts, so it’s worrying that Mr Fleck’s first reaction was to try to work out how to bully environmental groups out of the room to allow industry to write their own rules.”

Schaible strongly defended the report and pointed out that any attempts to exclude environmental organisations from the advisory group would remove the legitimacy of a process where they are already outnumbered by industry lobbyists by fifteen to one:

It’s our job to defend the public interest against corporate bullies. It’s one thing to oppose our calls for greater protections for citizens’ health and the environment, but quite another to try to push us out of talks entirely.

He continued:

“Given the circumstances, we think an apology would be appropriate.”

The report came a week ahead of the final meeting of a technical working group discussing an updated version of a so-called ‘BREF’ document of best available techniques for industry. It compares the Commission’s draft proposal for an updated BREF with the current document from 2006.

However, industry and the European Commission have claimed that the updated document shouldn’t be compared to the existing one because the previous version was not legally binding.

EEB technical expert Aliki Kriekouki, who is taking part in the talks this week, said this was “ridiculous”:

“We’ve spent years working to ‘revise’ a document and are now being told that comparing the updated version with the original is unfair. It beggars belief. Unlike industry lobbyists, our only interest is in improving the rules to offer the best possible protections to people all over Europe. When documents are revised after more than a decade, we don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect higher standards that reflect technological developments.”

Fleck’s email also criticized a section in the report that rated the performance of Member States taking part in the technical working group discussions, writing:

“Never in my career seen anything that stupid!! [sic]”

Kriekouki responded:

“People in Hungary, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Spain, Bulgaria, Finland, Malta, Slovakia and the UK may be interested to learn that their government’s delegations was at least partially made up of people who actually work for companies running waste incineration facilities. We don’t think it’s stupid to reveal this kind of industry infiltration and to improve the transparency of this highly technical process.”

 

ESWET failed to reply to a request for comment ahead of the publication of this piece.

 

Read more

The EEB has issued a detailed rebuttal of criticisms made by the waste incineration industry in this position paper: ‘EEB reaction to the CEWEP-ESWET-FEAD comments on EEB paper ‘AWasted Opportunity? EU environmental standards for waste incineration plants under review’