Monday

18th Feb 2019

Environment MEPs reject lax diesel car limits

  • National governments want to allow cars to emit more than twice the EU limit (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Members of the European Parliament's environment committee rejected on Monday evening (14 December) a decision by national governments to allow diesel car manufacturers to exceed emission limits.

They said an October decision by EU member states “would result in a de facto blanket derogation from applicable emissions limits."

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The decree which MEPs opposed would set up a new testing procedure for new car models, which would check pollution levels on the road instead of in a laboratory.

These “real driving emissions” tests are the cornerstone of the European Commission's response to the recently discredited laboratory tests, which allowed car manufacturers to design cars in such a way that they pass the test, but don't necessarily become cleaner.

Despite the Volkswagen scandal - the German car company had used illegal software the cheat the lab tests - EU countries decided in a closed-door experts' meeting on 28 October to give car makers leeway to bridge the gap between test results and reality.

As of 2017, when the new test comes into force, cars will be allowed to emit 168 milligrams (mg) of nitrogen oxide per kilometre, more than twice the EU limit of 80 mg/km.

Nitrogen oxide is a dangerous pollutant, which has been linked to causing diseases like asthma and lung cancer. It includes nitrogen dioxide, which the European Environment Agency recently said caused 75,000 people to die prematurely.

As of 2020, the EU countries will accept 120 mg/km - a factor of 1.5.

EU countries used a legal procedure for the decision which does not allow the parliament to table amendments, but only allows it to adopt or reject the decision.

Of the 62 environment committee MEPs that voted on Monday, 40 opted to reject the decision. Thirteen abstained, and nine wanted to pass the member states' decision.

“Today's vote is an important step towards overturning the outrageous decision by EU governments on creating a fundamentally-flawed driving emissions test procedure,” said Green MEP from the Netherlands, Bas Eickhout, in a press release.

The MEPs voted to ask the commission take a new decision by 1 April 2016.

"The technology to reduce deadly emissions is already available; we should not have to wait another decade for legal limits to be met," said British Liberal-Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder in a press statement.

Following the vote in the committee, it now needs to be put to a vote by a plenary session in the European Parliament.

This vote will by no means be an automatic repetition of the vote in the committee, as MEPs in the environment committee are more often on the side of the environmental argument, while those in plenary are generally more susceptible to car industry lobbyists.

There were also those who said they favour a more pragmatic approach.

British Conservative MEP Julie Girling told Reuters politics is “the art of the possible of making things happen."

“We could be delayed for months and months ... Why would we do that?” she added.

The plenary vote is expected in January.

Meanwhile, this week, the leaders of the EP's political groups are expected to take a decision on whether or not to install an inquiry committee to investigate the emissions testing scandal.

If adopted as an inquiry committee, the ad-hoc parliamentary body will have more powers than the special committee on tax rulings, which was hampered by a lack of access to documents.

On Wednesday (16 December), EU environment ministers are expected to reach agreement on new long-term national limits for ceilings of nitrogen oxide, as well as for other pollutants.

MEPs to probe what EU knew on Dieselgate

MEPs to investigate if commission and national governments did enough to stop use of cheat software on emissions tests, Inquiry committee to have access to sensitive documents.

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