The government has decided to give the Schiphol airport authority an environmental licence after all, despite it breaking pollution rules.
The cabinet’s nitrogen chief Christianne van der Wal told MPs on Tuesday she is well aware of the opposition in parliament but that as an “individual permit request”, the application meets the legal criteria and procedures.
Schiphol has not had such a licence for years but the authorities have turned a blind eye to the situation, meaning the airport is technically operating illegally.
The fact that the application has been made correctly is unconnected to the political sensitivities of the moment, the minister said. “Furthermore, I consider it important that Schiphol does follow the law”.
In January, the airport authority said it had bought enough pollution rights from nearby farmers to allow it to qualify for a licence. Sources suggest buying the rights had cost as much as €25 million.
A month later, MPs voted in favour of a motion calling on the government not to give the airport a licence as long as it “contributed fairly” to solving the nitrogen pollution problem.
PvdA MP Habtamu de Hoop said during Tuesday’s debate on the issue that the government’s action was extraordinary.
The government is giving the airport a licence to operate more flights “in the middle of a climate and nitrogen crisis,” he said. “At the same time, farmers, industry and the car industry are all being asked to make a fair contribution to solving the problem.”
The permit allows Schiphol to operate 500,000 take-offs and landings per year. The government, however, wants to reduce that to 452,000 because of the noise.
Noise problems are the subject of a legal battle involving airlines and the airport, which has said it will comply with the reduction in flight numbers this year.
In July, the appeal court overturned a lower court decision which was in favour of the airlines, saying that ruling was not in the interest of local residents. In particular, the appeal court said the airlines could derive “no rights” from the current illegal situation in terms of flight numbers which, it said, “the state had turned a blind eye to”.
As yet it is unclear what impact the decision to give Schiphol an environmental licence now will have on the legal case, seeing as it focuses on nitrogen, rather than noise.
The airlines say they are confident they can reduce noise levels and CO2 emissions ‘while maintaining a network of destinations for the millions of passengers and tonnes of cargo they carry annually to and from Schiphol’.
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