Netherlands cuts national speed limit to reduce nitrogen pollution

'It's a rotten step to take, nobody likes it, but this serves a greater interest'

AMSTERDAM — The Netherlands will cut its nationwide speed limit to a maximum 100 km per hour (62 mph) as part of a package of emergency measures intended to reduce nitrogen pollution, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday.

Rutte's government has been in crisis since a court in May ordered thousands of construction projects to be delayed because the Netherlands has been exceeding European Union limits on nitrogen emissions for years.

Airborne nitrogen emissions in the form of nitrogen oxides (NOx) come primarily from cars, trucks and the heavy diesel-powered utility vehicles used in construction. Nitrogen in soil or groundwater is usually in the form of nitrates, found in agricultural fertilizers, manure and sewage, and can cause unsightly and damaging algal blooms in waterways.

"It's a rotten step to take, nobody likes it, but this serves a greater interest," Rutte told reporters. "It's needed to make sure the Netherlands doesn't get locked down and to prevent jobs from being lost unnecessarily."

Construction work has been halted on some 18,000 highway, airport, wind farm and housing projects.

The Dutch research institute EIB has said construction output is set to fall by around 8% by 2021, with 40,000 jobs at risk.

Farmers have held major protests several times in the past two months, fearing that they would face the brunt of corrective measures.

Wednesday's emergency measures include changes to the amount of protein in animal feed, which will help reduce the nitrogen-bearing ammonia in livestock urine.

Per capita nitrogen emissions are four times the EU average in the small and densely populated Netherlands, with an estimated 61% coming from agriculture.

In recent years, permits were granted to builders and farmers based on their promises to mitigate nitrogen in nature reserves after projects were finished.

Rutte said that would no longer be possible, and that more measures would be announced in coming months to meet EU emissions limits.

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