the state will have to pay 10 million euros, “historic victory” of the NGOs

The state was ordered Wednesday to pay 10 million euros for not having sufficiently strengthened its system against air pollution, “never seen” in an emblematic case of a scourge that kills 40,000 per year in France.

The sum, the highest ever imposed to force the state to implement a decision of the administrative justice, and which could be renewed in six months, reflects the repeated failure of successive governments to fully comply with the injunctions in terms of the quality of the service. air.

The first decision of the highest administrative court in this case dates back to July 2017.

The Council of State, increasingly active in environmental matters, then called for plans to reduce the levels of PM10 particles (diameter less than or equal to 10 microns) and / or nitrogen dioxide (NO2, in particular associated with road traffic) in thirteen zones.

But three years later, despite the roadmaps adopted, justice noted values ​​still exceeded for eight of them, and gave six months to the State to toughen its measures.

At the end of an analysis launched at the end of January 2021, the judges noted an improvement in certain areas on Wednesday.

But in five agglomerations for NO2 (Paris, Lyon, Marseille-Aix, Toulouse and Grenoble) and in Paris for PM10, they point to an exceeding of pollution thresholds or a return below these thresholds, but perhaps temporarily, in a context of a health crisis that brought transport to a halt.

– Maintain the pressure –

Consequently, “the State cannot be regarded as having taken sufficient measures to ensure the full execution of the decisions” of 2017 and 2020.

The measures adopted by the government should make it possible to further improve the situation, but not “in the shortest possible time” requested, insists the Council.

It also notes “the uncertainties surrounding the adoption or the conditions for implementing some of them”, in particular the establishment “over a long period of time” of low emission zones (ZFE) to limit the circulation of vehicles in large cities.

“Barbara Pompili has made the fight against air pollution a priority of her action” and “will continue to do so in the months to come”, reacted the Ministry of Ecological Transition.

But this “fight” is not “obvious to all”, he defended himself, referring to the attempts of the senatorial right to delay the generalization of EPZs to cities of more than 150,000 inhabitants planned for 2025.

Unheard of: the requesting NGOs welcomed this “historic victory” which maintains pressure on the State by allowing it to be “punished” again in six months.

– The judges innovated –

The sum of 10 million euros indeed concerns the first half of 2021. The Council of State will re-examine in early 2022 the actions of the government for the second half of the year and may order a new penalty – identical, increased or reduced -, specified jurisdiction in a press release.

“Let us hope that the signal sent by justice can give its full effects, and make it possible to sustainably improve health and the environment on the whole of the territory”, commented Louis Cofflard, lawyer of the associations.

In general, the penalties are paid to the state budget, but the state itself being the debtor in this case, the judges have innovated.

Friends of the Earth, at the origin of the case, are awarded 100,000 euros. The remainder is divided between several public bodies engaged in the fight against air pollution (Ademe, Cerema, Anses, Ineris) and four regional associations monitoring air quality.

Some activists are worried that the state will then reduce the budget of these organizations by as much.

This sentence follows another “historic” decision of the Council of State, reflecting the proliferation of legal actions across the world to ask States and companies to do more to protect the planet.

On July 1, judges gave the state nine months to take additional measures against global warming. At the end of this period, if they felt that the measures were still insufficient, they could again impose a financial penalty.

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