EU eyes tighter air-pollution caps for heavy vehicles

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By the end of 2007, trucks and buses could be faced with costly plans from the Commission to reduce harmful emissions, such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides.

The Commission, on 16 July 2007, presented a range of possible caps on emissions from heavy-duty vehicles that pose particularly serious health and environmental problems, such as particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and ammonia. 

The new limits would replace existing ‘Euro IV’ standards and ‘Euro V’ limits that are to apply as of 2009, in a bid to improve air quality throughout the EU, especially in its heavily-congested cities. They would be applied in parallel to ‘Euro 5 and 6’ standards for passenger cars, confirmed by EU ministers last May, which are due to enter into force in 2009 and 2014 respectively (EURACTIV 14/12/06). 

For the future ‘Euro VI’ standards, the Commission has set out four possible scenarios, involving different levels of ambition. It will first consult with stakeholders before coming up with a definite proposal at the end of 2007 or beginning of 2008. 

According to Commission research, the various options could add from €1,000 to €6,000 to the cost of a vehicle, while, at the same time, two of the scenarios would also lead to a 2-6% increase in CO2 emissions – contradicting Europe’s goal of becoming a “low-carbon economy”, by lowering CO2 emissions by at least 20% before 2020 (see LinksDossier on energy & climate change package). 

The Commission said it wants to see whether stakeholders would prefer stricter limits for pollutant emissions even if it leads to higher CO2 emissions or whether they would rather have more lenient Euro VI standards for lower CO2 levels. It does not rule out a “balanced mid-way solution” and also suggests that longer-term targets, in the form of ‘Euro VII’ legislation, could already be set out. 

Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry, said: “This is good for the health of our citizens and the environment. Industry gets a clear perspective and the time to prepare to produce clean, high quality vehicles without endangering its competitiveness.” 

Despite his optimism, however, it seems unlikely that industry will give such a warm welcome to any proposal that would raise its costs significantly or put a strain on its capacity to remain competitive on the international stage. 

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