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  • MEPs demand U-turn on weakening of emissions limits

    The Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament has told environment ministers to ‘substantially modify’ a decision to weaken emissions limits for diesel cars when they meet on 16 December. The blunt demand adds to the opposition already expressed by the ALDE, GUE, Green and EFDD groups ahead of an environment committee vote next month on the controversial decision.

    In a letter on behalf of their centre-left group, S&D MEPs Gianni Pittella and Kathleen van Brempt said Parliament would not hesitate to use its power to veto the agreement between the Commission and member states on new limits for nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from diesel cars that are double the ‘Euro 6’ levels agreed back in 2007. The deal also delays the implementation of new limits for all new cars until 2019.

    The S&D group also added its support to calls for a Parliamentary inquiry into the Volkswagen emissions scandal. In October the Parliament rejected a similar proposal by the Green group that was supported by ALDE.

    EU oversight

    Pressure in the Parliament for tougher action on emissions has intensified as other carmakers and national authorities have come under the spotlight. Last month European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told a German audience that EU oversight of national type approval authorities is planned.

    He was echoing comments by Industry Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska in the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the national authorities had ‘failed’ and that the Commission wanted to ‘control and check’ whether they work ‘in an orderly fashion’. Meanwhile, in an open letter to EU policymakers, institutional investors with a total of €12 trillion of assets under management called for on-the-road testing for CO2 emissions to restore confidence in Europe’s testing regime.

    Confidence in that regime was knocked even harder last month when Renault’s flagship Espace vehicle was found to release diesel NOx emissions 25 times the legal limit in tests commissioned by T&E member Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH). The same model had complied with EU tests as they were carried out at unrealistically low engine temperatures. Earlier in November an Opel Zafira 1.6 CDTi emitted NOx up to 17 times the legal limit in DUH tests. Both Renault and Opel disputed the results.

    Revelations continue

    Since the initial announcement of Volkswagen’s cheating, the US Environment Protection Agency say illegal defeat devices have been uncovered in its 3.0-liter V-6 diesel engine as well. Six more cars, including some from the company’s Porsche and Audi marques, were implicated though Audi has said that the software that could be considered a ‘defeat device’ is for ‘temperature conditioning of the exhaust gas cleaning system’.

    A laboratory test conducted by BBC’s Panorama appeared to show that the defeat device software used by Volkswagen in the US is programmed to make the cars cheat European emissions limits as well. An Opel Zafira also tested by the investigative TV series pumped out NOx emissions two-and-a-half times the Euro 6 limit.

    Diesel fumes from vehicles are largely responsible for the premature deaths of 75,000 Europeans a year, according to the European Environmental Agency. It also estimated that long-term exposure to particulate matter caused 432,000 premature deaths in 2012, while ground-level ozone was responsible for 17,000 premature deaths.

    Commenting on the new findings, T&E’s clean vehicles manager Greg Archer said: ‘75,000 deaths from nitrogen dioxide in Europe, mainly from diesel vehicles, is a deplorable death-toll. Yet EU governments are unnecessarily weakening air pollution limits for diesel cars simply to suit carmakers. Environment ministers must think again at their forthcoming Council meeting.’