By Stephen Gardner
Dec. 15 — The European Commission told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 15 that it might have to revise controversial plans to give automakers leeway to meet air pollutant emissions standards, after the European Parliament's environment committee voted to block the commission's initial proposal.
The environment committee, in an evening vote Dec. 14, rejected by 40–9, with 13 abstentions, a commission decision that would allow automakers to exceed legal limits on nitrogen oxides (NOx) from passenger cars by a factor of 2.1 through 2020.
A European Union regulatory committee adopted the commission decision in October as part of preparations for the introduction of vehicle pollutant emissions tests based on real-world driving conditions, rather than laboratory tests (38 INER 1488, 11/4/15).
Current EU laboratory tests on emissions of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides are widely regarded as flawed, with vehicles complying with pollutant limits during tests, but in some cases significantly exceeding those limits on the road. To account for uncertainties in real-world driving tests, the commission said vehicles should be able to exceed the legal limit for nitrogen oxides by 110 percent through January 2020 and by 50 percent thereafter.
Under the latest generation of EU limits on exhaust pollutants, known as Euro 6, nitrogen oxide emissions should not exceed 80 milligrams per kilometer (mg/km). The leeway the commission proposed, in effect, would increase the limit to 168 mg/km, dropping to 120 mg/km after 2020.
The environment committee resolution rejecting the proposal said allowing the commission's proposed exceedance would “result in a de facto blanket derogation from applicable emissions limits,” and the commission should submit a new proposal by April 1, 2016.
The environment committee's objection must be ratified by a vote of the full Parliament, which will take place during a Jan. 18–21, 2016, session.
Catherine Bearder, a British liberal lawmaker, said Dec. 15 that she was “delighted” that the environment committee had “voted to reject this shameful stitch-up.”
Bearder said, “The technology to reduce deadly emissions is already available; we should not have to wait another decade for legal limits to be met.”
Environment committee lawmakers signaled during a meeting in November that they would push for a rejection of the commission's decision on the basis that it would give automakers too much leeway and would undermine the credibility of pollution limits in EU legislation. The scandal surrounding Volkswagen in the U.S., where the company was found to be using hidden software in some vehicles to cheat pollutant emissions tests, highlighted for lawmakers the extent to which legal limits were being flouted (38 INER 1567, 11/17/15).
The European Parliament said in a Dec. 14 statement that in rejecting the commission's proposed decision, environment committee members had taken into account an analysis by the commission's own in-house science service, the Joint Research Center, that estimated an 18.75 percent to 30 percent margin of error for on-road car emissions tests.
Commission spokeswoman Lucia Caudet told Bloomberg BNA that if the full European Parliament rejects the draft decision in January, then “the procedure stops,” and the commission could propose a new decision that a regulatory committee would vote on and that also would be subject to a potential European Parliament veto.
Alternatively, the commission could put forward “a full legislative proposal,” that would have to be jointly decided on by the European Parliament and by EU member states represented in the Council of the EU, Caudet said.
New EU on-road tests for vehicle air pollutant emissions will take effect beginning in September 2017.
Erik Jonnaert, secretary-general of the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association, said this date could be “in jeopardy” if the European Parliament blocks the proposal on leeway to meet emissions limits.
A rejection in January “would increase uncertainty for the industry and leave little time to make the necessary changes to vehicles and assembly lines,” and would “delay the benefits for the environment,” Jonnaert said.
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