December 27, 2017 / 2:12 PM / 5 months ago

Dutch court takes heat off government in air pollution fight

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Air pollution in the Netherlands is worse than European rules permit, but the government is doing enough to limit emissions, a Dutch court ruled on Wednesday, reversing a previous verdict in which it had criticized the government for inaction.

The ruling was a surprise defeat for environmentalist groups which brought the case since the same court had ordered the government to take immediate action to limit air pollution only three months ago.

The court said on Wednesday that the government could not be accused of doing too little to improve the quality of the air, although emissions in various parts of the country are in breach of European rules.

“Excess pollution is mainly caused by traffic at certain points in the centers of Amsterdam and Rotterdam”, the District Court in The Hague said. “These problem areas are very difficult to solve as they are critical for keeping cities accessible.”

Overall, emissions had been reduced in recent years and measures to further limit pollution were being taken, the court said.

The Dutch health ministry has warned that current levels of nitrogen dioxide and particle matter emissions, mainly caused by road traffic and factories, can lead to respiratory illnesses, with chronic exposure shortening life expectancy by more than a year.

Emissions of particle matter should have been limited six years ago, while the deadline to adhere to European rules on nitrogen dioxide was the start of 2015.

“We are very disappointed”, spokeswoman Anne Knol of environmentalist group Milieudefensie said. “Air pollution makes people sick and is the cause of thousands of deaths each year. This has to stop.”

Deputy Environment Minister Stientje van Veldhoven on Wednesday said she will present new measures to limit emissions in the coming months.

The government needs to adhere to the European rules as soon as possible, but is not expected to do so in the coming years.

Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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