By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union president Latvia will push ahead with a law to clamp down on air pollution after the European Commission's plan to withdraw the proposals was rejected by many lawmakers.
Air pollution from traffic and industry is responsible for about 400,000 premature deaths per year in the European Union, according to Commission data.
Still, the EU executive had proposed to scrap draft proposals on cleaning up the air, which it said did not fit in with its broader plans for smarter, streamlined legislation.
An angry backlash from some member states and many in the European Parliament forced the issue back onto the agenda.
"We are glad the Commission has decided to keep the NEC (National Emissions Ceiling) directive on the table," said Alda Ozola, a deputy state secretary in the environment ministry of Latvia, which holds the rotating EU presidency until end-June.
It was a complex issue and a deal between the parliament and member states would take time but Latvia would advance the talks as far as possible, Ozola told a debate at the assembly.
Marianne Wenning, a director in the environmental department of the Commission, said the row about whether to go ahead with national limits on various pollutants was now "behind us".
The executive was working on bringing the EU closer to standards laid out by the World Health Organization by 2030, she said.
Many member states break existing EU air quality rules that fall short of pollution levels the WHO says are safe. Some industrial sectors say they are struggling to be competitive and that EU regulation risks driving them out of Europe.
Any EU law that entails national limits has also stirred up Eurosceptic sentiments, especially in Britain where it has become an election issue in the run-up to polls in May.
But advocates say costs are offset by reduced public health bills and a drop in sick day numbers.
Elliot Treharne, air quality manager from the Greater London Authority, said London was working towards bringing London's air into compliance with existing EU standards, but it could not succeed alone as air pollutants cross borders.
"Without it (EU-wide law) the burden will be left to cities who are already doing as much as possible," he said.
(editing by Philip Blenkinsop and David Evans)