Tuesday

19th Jan 2021

NGO testing omitted from new Dieselgate legislation

  • Installation of a portable emissions measurement system, which can be used to carry out the new 'Real Driving Emissions' test (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Environmental non-governmental organisations are disappointed with the final piece of legislation aimed at preventing a repeat of the diesel emissions scandal known as Dieselgate.

The regulation was approved at the end of May by a Brussels-based committee of experts from member states, with 23 votes in favour – three member states abstained, while two did not show up.

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  • The Dieselgate scandal saw diesel cars being approved for European sale because they were clean during the old laboratory test – while in actual use they emitted much more nitrogen oxides (Photo: Markus Spiske)

It is the fourth of a quartet of regulations that was needed to establish a so-called Real Driving Emissions test.

The Dieselgate scandal saw diesel cars being approved for European sale because they were 'clean' during the old laboratory test – while in actual use they emitted much more nitrogen oxides (NOx) beyond EU limits.

The RDE test, which measures NOx emissions on the road instead of in the lab, has been mandatory for carmakers seeking approval to sell their cars in the EU since September 2017.

The RDE test was introduced by adopting four related but separate regulations.

This fourth piece of legislation deals with enforcement and is, arguably, the most important part underpinning the promise of not letting another Dieselgate happening.

But according to NGOs, a crucial element is missing.

"The EU has rowed back on plans to allow all third parties to test vehicles' on-road air pollution after they have been sold," said the Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) in a statement.

Earlier drafts of the regulation – seen by this website – specifically gave NGOs, cities, and regions – 'third parties' – a role in the enforcement picture. That role has been removed from the final version.

In April, several NGOs told the European Commission that allowing independent groups to also do tests was essential if a new emissions scandal was to be prevented.

"Third parties tests are an essential safeguard – without third parties scrutiny in the US, the Volkswagen scandal would have not been discovered," pointed out ClientEarth in its feedback to the draft bill.

Volkswagen Group's emissions fraud involving some 11 million diesel cars worldwide was uncovered by US authorities after the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) and the West Virginia University reported suspicious emissions behaviour.

T&E campaigner Florent Grelier told this website via email that the commission had assured NGOs that the possibility for third parties to pay laboratories to do tests still remained.

"[But] the legal text no longer mentions all 'third parties' once, but only 'accredited labs' as the only actors allowed to feed into the process," he noted.

High burden for NGOs

Dorothee Saar is campaigner with another environmental group, the Deutsche Umwelthilfe (Environmental Action Germany).

She told EUobserver in a phone interview that her organisation had started looking into getting the required certification. But it was a complicated process, she said.

"Certification is quite a high burden," said Saar, adding that her organisation was still debating whether to proceed.

She also noted that in the past it has been difficult for NGOs to have already accredited labs cooperate.

This can be because the labs do not want to upset their main clients – the car companies that they are checking – or because they simply do not have enough time.

Either way, if the fourth RDE regulation is adopted, it appearas that the status of NGOs is not much changed compared with the pre-Dieselgate situation.

It will be up to the official national authorities to do the market surveillance – a task which they neglected before the scandal broke.

MEPs now have three months to veto the regulation – but will not be allowed to amend it.

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