EU court slaps down Brussels, Paris and Madrid in car pollution spat

News from Brussels

Source: Politico, 2022-01-13

The Court of Justice of the EU on 13 January told Brussels, Paris and Madrid they have no right to challenge the European Commission's attempts to set technical standards on vehicle emissions as part of efforts to curb pollution.

The three cities — which experience endemic levels of air pollution — had contested an earlier Commission decision that allowed carmakers to keep breaking nitrogen oxide pollution limits as they shifted to a new testing system introduced following the Dieselgate scandal.

The tests, known as Real Driving Emissions tests, are aimed at making sure cars emit approved levels of emissions on the road, not just in laboratories. 

Under pressure from the industry, the Commission in 2016 allowed cars to breach those limits in the new testing system — a so-called conformity factor, which carmakers say is needed because of variable accuracy in the portable testing devices. 

The EU's General Court initially backed the cities in their protest, forcing the Commission to take its proposal for pollution conversion rates and the allowable leniency to the European Parliament and Council for discussion.

Talks on that file have since stalled, with the industry and big car countries claiming the devices used to measure emissions are not yet sufficiently accurate.

The Commission, along with Germany and Hungary, also filed an appeal against the General Court's decision.

The EU Court of Justice has now overturned the earlier decision, reasoning that the issue doesn't directly impact the local authorities involved.

"Since the cities of Paris, Brussels and Madrid are not directly concerned by that regulation, their actions seeking its annulment must be dismissed as inadmissible," the Court said in a statement. 

The judgment has green groups calling for tougher standards in the EU's next piece of legislation dealing with vehicle emissions due in April, which will regulate multiple forms of tailpipe emissions, including nitrogen oxide.

"This decision leaves in place the license to pollute awarded to carmakers behind closed doors in 2016," said Fabian Sperka, Vehicle Policy Manager at the NGO Transport & Environment. "Lawmakers must resist any watering down of the plans for a tougher Euro 7 air pollution standard which will affect Europe’s air quality for a generation."


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