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EU Court Overturns Relaxed Vehicle-Emission Standards

In a ruling that allows cities across the EU to ban so-called “cleaner” diesel vehicles, the European General Court rebuked commission lawmakers Thursday for relaxing emission standards.

(CN) - In a ruling that allows cities across the EU to ban so-called “cleaner” diesel vehicles, the European General Court rebuked commission lawmakers Thursday for relaxing emission standards.

The governments of Paris, Brussels and Madrid brought the underlying challenge after the European Commission made a change in 2016 that more than doubled the limit for nitrogen oxide that is emitted during RDE, or real driving emission, tests.

Meant to address the concern that laboratory tests do not reflect the true level of pollutants during real driving, and to thwart automakers from rigging the results with software cheats, RDE tests are required for all manufacturers of light-passenger and commercial vehicles.

The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union previously set the emissions limit at 80 mg/km, but 2016 changes by the commission upped that limit to 168 mg/km for a transitional period, followed by a 120 mg/km limit.

Commission lawmakers argued that the more flexible standards took statistical and technical uncertainties into account, but the cities of Paris, Brussels and Madrid told the General Court that this move exceeded the commission’s authority.

Each of the cities has already adopted vehicle-traffic restrictions to combat pollution, and they emphasized that such rules operate on the assumption that vehicles comply with the most recent standards and limits. 

Siding with those governments on Thursday, the General Court concluded “that the oxides of nitrogen emission limits set by the Euro 6 standard constitute an essential element of that regulation, which cannot be amended by the commission, and that that regulation provides that those limits must be complied with during real driving and, therefore, during RDE tests.”

Though the court did not make an English translation of the ruling available, it noted in a press release “that the commission had no power to amend those limits for the RDE tests by applying correction coefficients.”

“It further holds that even if it had to be accepted that technical constraints may justify a certain adjustment, a difference such as that stemming from the contested regulation means that it is impossible to know whether the Euro 6 standard is complied with during those tests,” the press release continues. “The General Court makes clear that the lack of competence on the part of the commission established necessarily implies an infringement of Regulation No 715/2007.”

Greenpeace was among those that applauded the decision this morning.

“Ever since Europe’s car industry told Europe’s governments their big lie, that they could make clean diesel engines, an array of mechanisms has been launched to cover up the inconvenient truth,” said Areeba Hamid, clean air campaigner for Greenpeace UK, as quoted today by the Guardian.

“The diesel deception has moved from Volkswagen’s infamous cheat device and its equivalents from other manufacturers, to the contorted ‘standards’ with loopholes big enough to drive an SUV through,” Hamid added.

“Truth is, diesel is a dirty fuel, the car industry can’t be trusted, and no amount of smoke and mirrors is going to persuade anyone otherwise.”

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