Air Pollution: the Conseil d'État orders the State to pay two fines of 5 million euros

Décision de justice
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The Conseil d'État had previously fined the French government for its failure to take the necessary measures to meet the European air pollution thresholds for fine particles and nitrogen dioxide in several urban areas of France. In 2021 and 2022, the State was ordered to pay three €10-million fines for each six-month delay. Today, the Conseil d'État noted that the pollution threshold for fine particles has now been met in all urban areas. Nitrogen dioxide thresholds have also been met in Toulouse and Aix-Marseille. However, they remain significantly above European limits in Paris and Lyon, where ongoing and planned actions will not bring them below the limit within the shortest possible timeframe. In light of the persistent pollution in these two areas, and taking into account the improvements observed, the Conseil d'État ordered the State to pay two fines of €5 million for the two six-month periods from July 2022 to July 2023, thereby halving the penalty for each six-month period.

The matter was brought before the Conseil d’État by several environmental organisations, and on 12 July 2017 the Conseil d’État ordered the State to implement plans to reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and micro particle (PM10) pollution in 13 areas in France to comply with the European Directive on air quality, which had been transposed into French law. In 2020, finding that the measures taken were insufficient to achieve those targets in eight areas of France, it ordered the State to take action or face a €10-million fine per six-month delay.
Following an initial fine of €10 million in August 2021 for the six-month period from January to July 2021, the Conseil d'État again ordered the State to pay €20 million for the second half of 2021 and the first half of 2022, as the situation remained borderline or unsatisfactory in four areas. In today's decision, following an oral hearing and a public hearing, the Conseil d'État ordered the State to pay two further fines of €5 million each for the second half of 2022 and the first half of 2023.


Fine particles now within the thresholds
The investigation showed that Paris, which was the last area to exceed the pollution thresholds for fine particulate matter PM10, did not exceed any limits in 2022, as a consequence of actions taken in 2020 and 2021. The Conseil d'État's ruling of 12 July 2017 on fine particle concentration is, therefore, now considered to have been complied with.


Nitrogen dioxide: Paris and Lyon remain above the thresholds
In its previous decision, in October 2022, the Conseil d'État identified four urban areas where nitrogen dioxide levels remained above the limits: Paris, Lyon, Toulouse and Marseille-Aix.
In 2022, the Toulouse area no longer exceeded the nitrogen dioxide limit. Although limits were not exceeded in the Marseille-Aix area in 2022, the situation here remained borderline, with one monitoring station recording pollution levels just below the limit of 40 μg/m3 (an average of 39 μg/m3 over the calendar year). However, in this area, the various actions taken appear to be sufficiently precise and detailed to ensure that the nitrogen dioxide levels observed in 2022 will continue to comply with legal limits. It emerged from the oral hearing that the revised atmosphere protection plan (PPA) of May 2022 included measures relating to maritime and automobile transport in urban areas, and that a Low Emission Zone for transport (ZFE-m) covering the extended city centre of Marseille was introduced on 1 September 2022. The Conseil d'État took the view that its 2017 ruling had been implemented as far as the Marseille-Aix area is concerned.
However, the same could not be said for Lyon and Paris.
In Lyon, the Conseil d'État noted that values recorded in one monitoring station continue to significantly exceed the threshold (47 μg/m3) and took the view that implemented and planned actions (revised PPA and ZFE-m extended to motorways) are not guaranteed to bring nitrogen dioxide concentrations below the legal threshold of 40 μg/m3 within the shortest possible timeframe.
As for the Paris area, the 40 μg/m3 limit was exceeded at eight monitoring stations over the period, with concentrations at two of them reaching 52 μg/m3. Although the Ministry of Ecological Transition has stated that a revised atmosphere protection plan is work in progress, its adoption is not expected to have an immediate and significant effect on air pollution in Paris, where levels of nitrogen dioxide have significantly exceeded the limits for many years. In addition, the Greater Paris metropolitan area has postponed the ban on vehicles with a “Crit'Air 3” sticker to 1 January 2025. No new measures to significantly and quickly reduce nitrogen dioxide levels in the Paris area have been implemented since the Conseil d'État's 2022 ruling.


Two €5-million fines
The Conseil d'État found that, in view of the situation in Lyon and Paris, it could not be considered that the ruling of 12 July 2017 had been wholly complied with. Taking into account the continued overrun, particularly in the Paris region, as well as the improvements identified (six of the eight areas designated as problematic in the July 2020 ruling no longer exceed the thresholds), the Conseil d'État ordered the State to pay two fines of €5 million for the second half of 2022 and the first half of 2023, thus halving the amount of the penalty for each half-year of delay.
The fine will once again be distributed between Friends of the Earth (known in France as Les Amis de la Terre), which first brought the matter before the Conseil d'État in 2017, and several other organisations working against air pollution, on the same basis used in the ruling of 4 August 2021.
Following this decision, in 2024, the Conseil d'État will review the action taken by the State during the second half of 2023 (July 2023 to January 2024).


Read the decision (in French)