Wednesday

29th Mar 2017

Investigation

Car lobby pushing for leniency in EU emissions law

  • As of next year, cars will be tested on the road. Car lobbyists are questioning the accuracy of the emission tests (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The European Commission is proposing to allow petrol cars to emit 1.5 times the EU limit for particles, once an on-road test replaces the laboratory test next year.

Draft legislation, seen by EUobserver, said that a margin of error should be allowed. However, the proposed margin of error is half the limit figure itself.

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Inhalation of particles can cause health problems to the heart and lungs, and can even lead to death.

The text is part of the shift towards the real driving emissions (RDE) test, which will be mandatory for passenger cars from 1 September 2017.

There is no mention in the text why the margin of error is needed. In fact, one passage in the bill's preamble stated that good testing methods exist.

“The equipment for measuring particle number available on the market was found to be reliable, repeatable and well performing in a wide variety of conditions, and improving with time,” the draft text said.

It also said that the allowed margin of error should be “regularly reviewed and adapted”.

However, it is clear where the leniency towards the car industry came from.

During discussions about the legislation, which included member states but not the European Parliament, car lobbyists tried to cast doubt about the accuracy of the new RDE test for particulate matter, a pollutant that is dangerous to human health.

The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association said in a meeting last July that measurement uncertainties were too high. It concluded: “300 percent measurement uncertainty is realistic.”

According to a source with knowledge of a meeting earlier this month, the EU's largest member, Germany, would accept the 1.5 times excess, called a conformity factor in EU jargon.

The discussions bring back memories of the legislative process for establishing a conformity factor for emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), almost one year ago.

In October 2015, just a month after it emerged that Volkswagen Group had cheated with the emissions test, EU member states agreed the details of an RDE test for diesel cars.

They decided on a NOx conformity factor of 2.1 until 2020 because the gap between lab tests and real-world tests was seen as too large for carmakers to bridge.

After 2020, exceeding the limit by a factor of 1.5 will be allowed.

Despite protests by environmental and health campaigners, the EU parliament decided not to veto the decision.

The legislation on particulate matter is expected to pass before the end of the year. It needs the approval from member states. The European Parliament will have a chance to veto it.

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