European Union commissioners duke it out over green legislation

Today’s meeting of the E.U.’s European Commission is a make-or-break moment for the union’s sustainable-development policies, according to eco-advocates. Since taking office last November, commission president José Manuel Barroso has delayed initiatives on pesticides, the marine environment, air quality, and more, saying they might prevent the sluggish E.U. economy from picking up speed. E.U. Enterprise Commissioner Günter Verheugen argues that the anticipated expense of the union’s enviro policies has yet to be justified. But greens and many others disagree, arguing that while implementation costs could be high, the policies are likely to provide significant — though difficult-to-measure — economic and social benefits. For example, the E.U.’s tough clean-air plan is likely to prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths a year, reduce future health-care expenses, and forestall costly damages to agriculture. Says Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, “[I]n all of these scenarios the benefits are four times more than the costs.”