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Netherlands cuts national speed limit to 100 kph in bid to lower emissions

The Dutch are aiming to reduce nitrogen pollution and limits on vehicle speed are one part of a comprehensive plan to do just that.

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Take it easy while driving through the Netherlands.

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As the old saying goes, speed kills. But driving quickly isn't just a danger to human health, it's also impacting the environment. In a bid to curb emissions, the Netherlands is set to cap its national speed limit at just 100 kph, a mere 62 miles an hour.

Introduced Wednesday by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Reuters reports this move is part of an emergency plan aimed at reducing harmful nitrogen pollution. Relatively small and densely populated, the Netherlands has exceeded European Union limits on this type of contamination for years -- it's running about four times higher than average for the region. A recent court order halted thousands of construction projects in order to stem rising pollution, according to Reuters; the speed limit reduction is an effort to reduce other sources of nitrogen oxide and get those projects moving again.

It's estimated about 61% of the country's nitrogen pollution comes from agricultural activity. Fertilizer and sewage are major contributors, but so are animals. The government is also working to limit the amount of protein found in livestock feed to curb the ammonia levels of animal urine.

Aside from fertile fields and husky heifers, similar pollution also comes from cars, trucks and heavy equipment. Internal combustion-powered vehicles can emit nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, hence the national speed-limit reduction, a move that could prove unpopular with motorists, even in such a small country.

It will be interesting to see if this move to limit highway speeds will spread to other EU countries, notably Germany, where certain portions of the famed Autobahn are unrestricted. A green movement has been present there for years, but it has yet to succeed at reining in lead-footed drivers.

The push to limit nitrogen emissions is urgent: Some 18,000 construction projects have been halted, a move that impacts highways, airports, wind farms and housing. By 2021, this could put as many as 40,000 jobs at risk and reduce overall output in the sector by as much as 8%.

"It's a rotten step to take, nobody likes it, but this serves a greater interest," Rutte said. More measures to curb pollution are likely to be revealed in future as the Netherlands pushes to comply with EU requirements.

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