Wednesday's vote on the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants report supports commission proposals for binding national targets on six toxic pollutants, ensuring member states must take action to improve air quality by 2030.
The so-called national emissions ceiling directive will see sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, methane, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds restricted under these new rules.
European Conservatives and Reformists group MEP Julie Girling, who led on the report, was openly critical of the committee's vote. The UK deputy called the targets unrealistic and counterproductive and warned that a robust impact assessment had not been conducted.
Girling was concerned that national governments would not agree with amendments tabled in committee that went beyond the commission's proposed targets, which she underlined as being particularly difficult to achieve for Europe's farmers.
Around 95 per cent of Europe's ammonia and a large chunk of its methane production have an agricultural source. MEPs backed 2025 targets for all pollutants, but agreed on a 2030 deadline for methane to give the EU's agricultural sector more time to adapt.
The UK and French governments, however, have opposed any inclusion of ammonia and methane in the new emissions limits, while London is opposed to 2025 targets for any of the six pollutants named in the directive.
"This legislative process has been overshadowed throughout by the commission's threat to withdraw their proposal and their stated intention to hold a review after the European parliament adopts its initial position," said Girling.
"It is estimated that around 400,000 people a year die prematurely across the EU from air pollution. This is not acceptable, we are all directly impacted by this crucial health issue. I believe my original proposal presented the right balance between ambitious targets and realistic goals.
"Unfortunately, a coalition of Socialists, Liberals and Greens have focused on increasing the already ambitious targets set by the commission. Therefore, I fear that we are now embarking on a long and protracted negotiation, rather than taking the quicker route of improved health for EU citizens."
Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group spokesperson on air quality Seb Dance was positive, calling the vote, "an important first step to ensure appropriate action is taken by all sectors in the economy to improve air quality. It cannot be left to just a few industries to do all the work.
"We need to take all the necessary measures to ensure that the most dangerous pollutants for human health, causing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and affecting brain development, will be limited up to 2030 and beyond."
"I am delighted that MEPs in the environment committee backed my amendments, giving more power to local and regional authorities to ensure that they have the tools to effectively reduce pollution in their cities. Local authorities are often best placed to deliver the change needed on the ground, but are all too often ignored.
"With more and more reports showing the health impacts of poor urban air quality to be even worse than we thought, governments must consult local authorities when drawing up their plans to meet the new targets."
Socialist health and climate spokesperson Matthias Groote, meanwhile, was critical of the MEPs who refused to back the stricter targets, saying, "It is a shame that the EPP voted against this report, which means that the health of so many European citizens is not their priority."
"The S&D group calls for binding targets for 2025 to ensure a linear reduction of emissions between 2020 and 2030 and avoid implementing expensive measures towards the end of the commitment period," he added.
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe MEP Catherine Bearder also backed the restriction of airborne pollutants, which she called, "an invisible killer that we cannot afford to ignore".
"If people were being forced to drink dirty water rather than breathing dirty air, no-one would be questioning the need to take action. Strict limits on the most deadly pollutants will force governments to improve air quality across the board, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds," she concluded.
The report must now go before parliament's Strasbourg plenary session in October before negotiations with national governments can begin.