France was ordered in August 2021 to pay 10 million euros for not having sufficiently strengthened its system against pollution, a decision then relating to the first half of 2021.
The rapporteur – whose opinions are generally, but not always, followed by the judges – requested on Monday the payment of a new sum of 20 million additional euros corresponding to the following two semesters, from July 2021 to June 2022.
He recognized in his conclusions a “real” improvement but, according to him, the State has failed to act within the “shortest possible” timeframe for the air quality to improve in certain metropolises.
The first decision in this case dates back to July 2017. The Council of State then ordered the State to implement plans to reduce the levels of fine particles PM10 and/or nitrogen dioxide (NO2, in particular associated with road traffic) in thirteen zones.
The nitrogen dioxide thresholds are still exceeded in Paris, Lyon and Marseille, while the situation has improved in Toulouse but still not consolidated enough, the rapporteur estimated on Monday. The agglomeration of Grenoble – still pinned in the last decision of the Council of State in 2021 – on the other hand does not present any more excess of the limit value.
The rapporteur acknowledged the implementation of public policies to reduce the sources of pollution, such as aid measures for the purchase of less polluting vehicles or the ban on the installation of new oil or coal-fired boilers. Another device put forward by the government: low emission zones (ZFE).
“Things are improving overall”, “the number of overrun areas is tending to decrease” but the rapporteur underlined the time that has elapsed since the 2017 decision to request a new penalty payment equivalent to the previous one, i.e. 10 million per semester. “The fact that no definitive solution has been offered for all this time is not satisfactory,” he said.
The sums would be shared in particular between public bodies fighting against air pollution and Friends of the Earth, the NGO behind the case.
The lawyer for the Ministry of Ecological Transition, Louis Boré, for his part highlighted “progress” and said he feared that such a heavy penalty would send “a bad message”. “The State wants the amount to be reasonable and reflect the efforts made,” he explained after the hearing.