The Environmental Audit Committee considers the extent to which the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development, and it audits their performance against any sustainable development and environmental protection targets. Unlike most select committees, the Committee’s remit cuts across government rather than focuses on the work of a particular department.

According to the report, the Government is putting thousands of lives at risk by trying to water down EU air quality rules instead of prioritising action to cut pollution on UK roads – according to Parliament's green watchdog (the Commons Environmental Audit Committee).

Dangerous levels of particulate matter (PM2.5 or PM10) and chemicals (such as NO2 ) in the air are contributing to tens of thousands of early deaths every year in UK cities. Yet an Environmental Audit Committee inquiry has found that Ministers appear to be actively trying to dilute safety standards to avoid EU fines. Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley MP, said:

"It is a national scandal that thousands of people are still dying from air pollution in the UK in 2011 – and the government is taking no responsibility for this It is often the poorest people in our cities who live near the busiest roads and breath in diesel fumes, dangerous chemicals and bits of tyre every day. If you have heart disease, asthma or other respiratory illnesses then living near a congested road like this can literally take years off your life. Despite a coalition pledge to meet European safety standards on air pollution the Government appears to be lobbying behind the scenes to water these rules down."

In the UK, 30,000 deaths were linked to air pollution in 2008 - with 4,000 in London alone. But business plans produced by the Department for Transport and Defra do not even mention air quality – despite a commitment in the Coalition agreement to work towards full compliance with EU air quality standards.

The Government will be able to pass EU fines for air pollution breaches to local authorities, subject to new procedures in the Localism Bill, and claims that councils have the tools available to improve air quality. However, the report raises a number of concerns about the ability of councils to tackle this problem without coordination and assistance from central Government and points out that the causes of poor air quality are often beyond an individual authority's control.

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