One year after the publication of new EU rules on coal pollution, the German government has broken its own laws by failing to incorporate the new limits into national environmental standards.

Campaigners say the health costs are huge – with 3,000 premature deaths that could be avoided in Germany each year – and that the government is putting the industry’s interests ahead of public protection.

In August last year the European Union published a new environmental standards document for large combustion plants – the most polluting power stations in Europe. The new rules will cut harmful pollution from coal and lignite power plants.

Germany’s Federal Pollution Control Act states that such rules must be brought into German law within one year of publication – a deadline which was missed today.

Stefanie Langkamp, Head of Coal at the German Climate Alliance pointed out that the toxic pollution from coal plants was responsible for a host of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases:

“The government is now putting the interests of the coal industry ahead of that of citizens’ health – just as it has done for the auto industry. The new standards should have been made part of German law by today. The failure to do this comes at the cost of the environment and people’s health.”

The EU standards require tighter limits on emissions of harmful pollutants including mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter.

A 2016 report ‘Lifting Europe’s Dark Cloud’ showed that were German coal plants to use the best available techniques for cutting pollution from coal, more than 3,000 premature deaths could be prevented every year. It also showed that tightening pollution limits would mean 1,500 fewer new cases of chronic bronchitis, 70,000 fewer days of Children suffering from asthma and total health cost savings that could exceed €10 billion in Germany alone every year.

The European Environmental Bureau played a key role in the development of the new rules and campaigned for their much-delayed adoption.

Speaking after the rules were adopted, Christian Schaible, the EEB policy manager that took part in the six years of negotiations that led to the new document said:

“Tried-and-tested techniques exist to filter out or reduce harmful fumes yet the decision as to whether to use them is too often left to plant operators, who simply do whatever is cheapest”

The German government has been strongly criticised by campaigners for its opposition to tighter limits on toxic coal emissions. The German Climate Alliance today published a “Chronology of Failure” (German) detailing how the government has blocked the new standards over the years.

Langkamp said that the harmful air pollution from coal is also highly relevant for the current work of Germany’s Coal Commission:

“The decision about how to phase out coal needs to be made hand-in-hand with the implementation of EU clean air rules. Power plants that can’t meet the new pollution limits, and are too old to be worth investing in retrofitting the required equipment, should be closed. The oldest plants that cause the most harm to human health should be taken offline first.”

She added that a plant’s inability to meet the latest clean air requirements should also automatically disqualify its owners from even asking for compensation:

“Energy users and tax payers should not have to pay for uneconomical and health-harming coal plants that must be closed.”