Dutch National Air Quality Cooperation Programme (NSL)

Dutch government evading EU regulations on air quality?

In July 2008, the Dutch government requested the EU Commission to agree to postponement (‘derogation’) of the obligation to meet the deadlines set for compliance with EU limit values for particulate matter (2005) and nitrogen dioxide (2010). In April 2009, the Commission agreed. The derogation for particulate matter was set to June 2011, for nitrogen dioxide to January 2015.

The derogation had to be requested as, since 1999, no serious efforts had been made (EU Directive 1999/30). As the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) stated in 2008, the average concentrations of particulate matter en nitrogen dioxide at ‘street locations’ in 2007 were at about the same level as they were in 2000.(*) In their annual report 2009 on air quality, the RIVM stated that the nitrogen dioxide concentrations had remained stable during the past few years, and that the concentrations of particulate matter in 2009 were comparable to those of previous years,“but showed, over the longer term, a descending trend”.(**) However, significant improvement had only been reached in the decade before 2000, thanks to EU emission standards for road traffic.

According to Directive 2008/50, article 22, Member States may postpone deadlines by a maximum of five years on condition that an air quality plan is established. The air quality plan had to be accepted by the EU Commission. In April 2009, the EU Commission accepted the Dutch National Air Quality Cooperation Programme (NSL).

The NSL is supposed to be a national programme containing air improvement measures as well as spatial projects and developments, which guarantees that the postponed deadlines will still be met. The improvement measures are supposed to be so strong and effective as to not only outweigh the inevatibly worstening effects on air quality of the included projects, but also realize the necessary decrease of concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide (especially in cities).

However, once the NSL had been sent to the EU Commission, in July 2008, the most effective measures were removed from the program. Shortly before the Commission agreed to derogation, the kilometer tax was suspended. Also the tax on petrol (‘particulate matter tax’) and aviation tax were removed form the NSL, and financial support for the purchase of filters for particulate matter was stopped. Shortly before the consent of het Commission, the Dutch government hastily decided on thirty higway road-widening projects, not mentioned in the NSL (Wet versnelling besluitvorming wegprojecten, April 2, 2009).

The alleged effectiveness of the NSL is based on inscrutable calculations by local and regional authorities en Rijkswaterstaat (Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management), the same institutions that advocate and carry out most of the spatial projects included in the NSL. In ohter words, the authorities that are eager to realize projects are in the position that they themselves calculate not only the effects of these projects on air quality, but also the effectiveness of measures which are supposed to compensate for the projects.

The NSL does not specify the calculated effects of projects and measures, because the autorities and Rijkswaterstaat send to the NSL-monitoring Office only a brief description of the projects and measures, as well as the outcomes of their calculations: the parameters (data) necessary for the calculation of concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide at representative locations along roads (ten meters from the road’s kerbside or less if the building line is nearby), calculations which are centralized and carried out by the NSL-monitoring Office.

For the calculation of the concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxode on a point along a certain city road, the following data are required: – traffic intensity (how many vehicles), – the proportion of busses, vans and trucks, – average speed (degree of congestion), – fysical street characteristics (open/canyon street, trees, yes or no). Local authorities and Rijkswaterstaat determine the street data. The effects of projects and measures are supposed to be included in those data, but cannot be verified.

The determination of data by local authorities and Rijkswaterstaat is often based on estimation and not on verifiable fact gathering or verifiable calculated forecasts. Data are usually chosen in such a way that the calculations show that desired projects do not lead to exceeding of the maximum concentrations allowed in 2011 (particulate matter) en 2015 (nitrogen dioxide).

Doubt expressed by members of the Dutch Parliament (motie Van Tongeren, June 21st, 2011) resulted in a task for the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) to valuate the data delivered by local authorities and Rijkswaterstaat. The RIVM, however, reported not to be able to valuate traffic data within the available time.(***) So, monitoring the NSL is organized in a way that prevents effective monitoring and control.

The RIVM developed a monitoring network (LML) measuring concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide at sixty locations in the Netherlands. The LML is supposed to indicate the average air quality in The Netherlands. The LML does not, however, reveal the highest concentrations in the big cities, where meeting the standards is most problematic.

Particulate matter, for instance, is measured at two locations in Utrecht: Constant Erzeystraat and Kardinaal de Jongweg. In many streets in Utrecht, air pollution is much worse. At fourteen measuring locations of the LML (2011), the standard for particulate matter (24-hour limit value) was exceeded. There is no doubt that in many streets in big cities, the standard for nitrogen dioxide will be exceeded in 2015.


* RIVM, Korte-termijn trend in NO2 en PM10 concentraties op straatstations van het LML, 2008, p.3.
** RIVM, Jaaroverzicht luchtkwaliteit 2009, p.3.
*** RIVM, Monitoringsrapportage, Stand van zaken Nationaal Samenwerkingsprogramma Luchtkwaliteit 2011, p.91.