British MPs Launch “Super Inquiry” Into Air Pollution Problems

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A new “super inquiry” has been launched in the UK by MPs aiming to force action on the country’s growing air pollution problems, according to reports.

In a situation that is apparently “unprecedented,” 4 different Commons committees will question a variety of ministers and air quality experts, with the aim being to better understand the situation and the available remedies.

The 4 Commons committees in question are: the health committee; the transport committee; the environmental audit committee; and the environment, food, and rural affairs committee.

The Chair of the environmental audit committee, Labour MP Mary Creagh, commented: “Ministers will face unprecedented scrutiny in Parliament to ensure they finally step up to the mark to ensure adults, and children in particular, do not have their health damaged by filthy air. Four committees coming together for a joint highlights the degree of MPs’ concern at the Government’s slow pace in cleaning up Britain’s air. It’s time for action on a far bigger scale.”

The Conservative Chair of the health committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP, also commented: “Poor air quality is affecting the health of millions of people across the UK because of the impact of invisible particulates and other pollutants. Our joint inquiry will include an examination of the scale of the harm caused and the action necessary to tackle it.”

In the UK, it’s the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) that is technically responsible for air quality, but as its available tools are quite limited, cooperation is needed. For instance, banning diesel vehicles (whether just some or all) would require the approval of the Treasury and also the Department for Transport.

The Tory Chairman of the DEFRA committee, Neil Parish MP, commented: “The solutions to cleaning up our air are not the responsibility of just one minister. That’s why we have taken the unprecedented task of convening four select committees so we can scrutinise the Government’s efforts from every angle and look for holistic solutions that are good for health, transport and the environment.”

As with many such things, the British government is being forced to address air quality problems due to intense activism by professionals focused on this topic. Here’s more from the Evening Standard:

“Ministers have been forced to draw up new proposals to cut air pollution after judges backed environmental lawyers ClientEarth in two high-profile cases that the Government was failing to do enough to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels. The draft new plans are due to be published on April 24 and the MPs want to ensure they not only meet legal requirements but also deliver maximum health and environmental benefits. … Scientists estimate that toxic air is to blame for a death toll of up to 9,400-a-year in London, with emissions from diesel vehicles significantly blamed for air pollution levels. MPs are also concerned that a lack of cross-Whitehall working is hindering the battle against dirty air.”

Interestingly, the inquiry will spend some time on “EU” air pollution failures as well as purely British ones. In particular, this concerns the fact that vehicle pollution doesn’t match up with vehicle ratings or regulatory requirements. In other words, air quality is bad in part because the EU has been letting automakers pollute more than they are technically allowed to, and the inquiry plans to dig into that. “Part of the inquiry will focus on the failure of EU regulations on emissions to reflect actual pollution from vehicles which is far higher in many cases than according to laboratory tests.”

“The UK economy depends on an efficient and flexible transport system but emissions from vehicles are a significant problem and the standards that governments have relied on have not delivered the expected reductions,” commented Louise Ellman, Labour chairwoman of the transport committee.

Certainly true — the EU standards seem to have been designed solely so that they can be gamed easily.

Ellman continued: “We will be asking what more can be done to increase the use of cleaner vehicles as well as to encourage the use of sustainable modes of transport.”

Photo via DAVID HOLT (some rights reserved)

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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