In July 2020, the Conseil d’État ordered the Government to take action to improve air quality in several areas in France, under penalty of a fine of 10 million euros per six months of delay. Although measures have been taken, the Conseil d’État now considers that they will not improve the situation in the shortest possible time, as their implementation remains uncertain in some cases and their effects have not been evaluated. Accordingly, it has ordered the Government to pay a fine of 10 million euros for the first half of 2021 to the association Les Amis de la Terre, the referring body, as well as to several organizations and associations involved in the fight against air pollution. The Conseil d’État will evaluate the actions of the Government for the second half of the current year in early 2022 and decide whether the State must pay an additional fine.
Following the referral of the matter by an environmental protection association, on 12 July 20171 the Conseil d’État had ordered the Government to implement plans to reduce concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM10) in 13 areas in France in the shortest possible time, in order to comply with the requirements of the European directive on air quality, which sets limit values not to be exceeded for these concentrations. Noting on 10 July 20202 that limit values were still exceeded in 8 zones and that the Government had not taken all the measures to ensure the execution of the decision of 12 July 2017, the Conseil d’État ordered the latter to take the necessary measures within six months, under penalty of a 10 million euro fine per half-year of delay. After having received the elements forwarded by the Government to justify its action as well as the observations of the applicant associations, the Conseil d’État held a public hearing on 12 July. It rendered its decision today.
Air pollution limits are still exceeded in 5 areas
With today’s decision, the Conseil d’État notes that, since its decision in July 2020, the new data transmitted show that limit values are still exceeded in several areas and that additional actions are therefore still necessary. In 2019, 5 zones still recorded nitrogen dioxide levels above the limit values (Paris, Lyon, Marseille-Aix, Toulouse and Grenoble) and one concerning fine particles (Paris). The provisional data provided by the parties for 2020 indicate that exceedances persist for Paris and Lyon and that levels are only slightly below the limit values for the other three areas, even though several sources of pollution, including road traffic, have been greatly reduced as a result of steps taken to address the health crisis.
The steps taken will not improve air quality in the shortest possible time
The Government has indicated that it has taken several steps to reduce air pollution since July 2020, such as the launch of a procedure to evaluate public policies on air quality, the introduction of new low-emission zones (ZFEs), incentives to convert the national car fleet to less polluting vehicles, and a gradual phasing out of gas or oil-fired boilers.
While the Conseil d’État considers that these measures should have positive effects on air quality, it notes that questions remain for several of them with regard to their effects on the return below the limit values as well as on the timeframe for this return. The Conseil d’État further notes that no new air protection plan has been adopted for the areas concerned, although these plans are now a known and appropriate tool for specifying the actions to be taken and assessing the timeframe in which they will enable a return to below the limit values.
For these reasons, the Conseil d’État considers that, despite the measures taken and notwithstanding a real improvement in the situation in several regions in excess, the measures taken by the Government are not sufficient to consider that its 2017 decision has been fully implemented.
A 10 million euro fine for the period fron January to July 2021
Accordingly, the Conseil d’État ordered the Government to pay the fine for the first half of the year (11 January 11 – 11 July 11 2021). Taking into account both the duration of the exceedance of the limit values (since 2005 for PM10 and 2010 for NO2) and the measures taken since July 2020, the amount of the fine is neither increased nor reduced and is set at 10 million euros, as provided for in the decision of 10 July 2020.
The fine will be divided up between the association Les Amis de la Terre, which initially appealed to the Conseil d’État, and several organizations and associations involved in the fight against air pollution for the remainder.
Following this decision, the Conseil d’État will re-examine in early 2022 the Government’s actions for the period from July 2021 to January 2022. If they are still not sufficient, it may again order the payment of a new fine of 10 million euros, which may be increased or decreased. On this occasion, it may maintain or modify the distribution of the proceeds of the fine.
Who are the beneficiaries of the 10 million euro fine?
The fine for the first half of 2021 will be distributed as follows:
• 100,000 euros to the association Les Amis de la Terre
An association for the protection of man and the environment, which initially referred the matter to the Conseil d’État
• 3.3 million euros to the Agence de l’environnement et de la maîtrise de l’énergie (Ademe)
Coordination, promotion of research, information and incentives in the environmental field, especially efforts to prevent and combat air pollution
• 2.5 million euros to the Centre d’études et d’expertise sur les risques, l’environnement, la mobilité et l’aménagement (Cerema)
Advice, assistance, studies, monitoring, innovation, expertise, research, especially in the field of outdoor air quality
• 2 million euros to the Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire, de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail (Anses)
Activities related to human health safety, particularly in the field of the environment and air quality risks
• 1 million euros to the Institut national de l’environnement industriel et des risques (Ineris)
Prevention of risks that economic activities pose to human health and the environment, including risks related to air quality
• 350,000 euros to the association Air Parif
• 350,000 euros to the association Atmo Auvergne Rhône-Alpes
• 200,000 euros to the association Atmo Occitanie
• 200,000 euros to the association Atmo Sud
Approved member associations of the Atmo France network (federation of air quality monitoring associations) performing air and atmosphere monitoring missions and providing assistance with the evaluation of air pollution control actions in the regions still concerned by the exceedances in question.
1 Decision No. 394254 of the Conseil d’État - 12 July 2017