Environment MEPs rebuff member states on diesel emissions

Environment Committee MEPs rejected the Commission and member states' agreement on diesel emissions

Environment Committee MEPs rejected the Commission and member states' agreement on diesel emissions. [Flickr/Atomic Taco]

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted yesterday evening (14 December) to reject a controversial proposal from the European Commission, and member states, on new emissions testing standards for diesel cars.

A resolution drafted by committee MEPs to object to the proposal was passed with 40 votes in favour, 9 objections and 13 abstentions.

On 28 October, the Commission struck an agreement with member states on rules mandating new emissions testing standards for diesel cars amid public outrage over the scandal surrounding Volkswagen’s cheated emissions reporting.

Under that compromise deal, starting in September 2017, new diesel car models would still be able to emit double the volume of pollutants allowed by legal standards. The limit is set to sink again in 2019.

The executive proposed rules for real driving emissions tests (RDE) to go into effect in 2016, and measure the emissions of cars once they’re in use, scoring more accurate results than tests done in labs. New EU-wide regulation mandating RDE testing for diesel cars has been in the works for several years.

But member states watered down the European Commission’s proposal, and agreed to a longer transition period before the new testing rules are applied.

Despite squabbling between the Commission and member states over the deal, the executive billed the draft agreement as a breakthrough on emissions testing and cited “technical limits” that prevented a quicker transition to the new standards.

>>Read: Member states resist stricter controls on diesel car emissions

Diesel cars generally produce four to five times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide once they’re on the road, according to Commission figures.

Following yesterday’s vote, Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout (Greens), spokesperson of the Parliament’s Environment Committee, called the outcome an “important step towards overturning the outrageous decision by EU governments”.

“This test, as it stands, would essentially overwrite EU limits on pollutants from cars,” Eickhout said.

“As a direct response to the ‘diesel-gate’ scandal, it would seriously damage the credibility of the EU to regulate the car industry,” he added.

In a statement yesterday, Environment Committee MEPs cited a study from the European Environment Agency that named nitrogen oxide as a cause of 75,000 premature deaths in Europe.

Julia Poliscanova, policy officer for clean vehicles and air quality at NGO Transport & Environment, applauded the MEPs’ vote and dismissed the Commission’s claim that technical constraints are standing in the way of a quick transition to lower emissions standards.

“The technology to clean up exhausts is readily available and will cost just €100 for most cars,” Poliscanova said.

The European Parliament will vote on the resolution during a plenary session in the week of 18-21 January.

Environment ministers from member states are set to discuss the October agreement on diesel emissions during a meeting on 16 December.

US regulators found that Volkswagen designed software for close to half a million diesel cars that gave false emissions data during the laboratory tests. Experts consider that tests on the road are more difficult to be cheated.

In Europe, while the European Commission and the national authorities are preparing more strict emissions limits, a number of inquiries have already been opened in France.

But the executive seems reluctant to open any kind of inquiry. El?bieta Bie?kowska, the Internal Market Commissioner, has upset MEPs by saying that the executive intends not to act until the member states have conducted their own national investigations.

The presidents of the European Parliament´s Environment, Transport, Internal Market and Industry committees have decided to investigate how Volkswagen cars could have cheated the testing system without the fraud being picked up at any stage by the European Commission.

  • 16 December 2015: National environment ministers meet to discuss 28 October agreement on diesel emissions
  • 18-21 January: MEPs vote in plenary session on resolution objecting the Commission and member states' agreement

Under the compromise draft agreement between the Commission and EU member states:

  • January 2016: Car makers must start measuring NOx levels on the road
  • September 2017: The new tests are taken into account to authorize the vehicles, although there will be a phase-in period with some leeway for the sector
  • September 2019: Car makers can exceed 50% of the 80 mg/km limit

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