Emissions scandal aftermath: EU criticises delays to new tests, blames financial crisis

December 21, 2016

As the emissions scandal legal action in the US comes to a close, the EU has published its own draft conclusions over the scandal. It has blamed several EU countries such as Italy, France and Spain, which delayed adoption of stricter emissions tests despite evidence this would lead to breaking air pollution laws, as well as the commission itself, which desired to protect Europe’s car industry, its top export, following the 2008 financial crisis.  

The draft conclusions, which will be voted on by the European Parliament early next year, recommend a structural change at the European Commission. A single Commissioner in charge of both addressing air pollution and the sources of these pollutants – an Air Quality Commissioner – is proposed so that cause and effect can be dealt with in a more joined-up way, to help to ensure air quality standards are met. Although it was known that discrepancies existed between laboratory tests and on-road NOx emissions of diesel vehicles as early as 2004-2005 (see p31), the cars were passing the tests (in theory addressing the source of the pollutants) and the air pollution problem itself was not being effectively addressed.  

The Commission began legal action earlier this month against seven EU countries including the UK and Germany for failing to properly police car emissions.  

In 2012, there were already clear signs that something was wrong with the emissions of diesel cars,Dutch Liberal politician Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy said of the draft report  

Dieselgate would not have happened if our national governments and the European Commission had acted.  

On Tuesday, the European Commission met with representatives of the bloc’s 28 nations to decide on strengthening on-road (RDE) emissions tests that will supplement the laboratory-based ones, which the VW emissions scandal found to be lacking.  

New measures from September next year will extend this testing to ultra-fine health-harming particles which are emitted from the new generation of gasoline (petrol) direct injection engines (GDI) – a rapidly growing type of petrol engine which EU law does not currently regulate must have filters. However, carmakers have said meeting the September deadline is ‘almost impossible’ and call for the measures to be delayed until 2019.  

However, campaign group Transport & Environment have pointed out that European carmakers already use cheap gasoline particulate filters (GPF) to reduce pollution from GDI engines, which emit 10 times more particles than previous generations of engines. They have also pointed out that European carmakers are already able to meet stricter US emissions tests across the pond using selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology, so complaints that they are unable to meet easier EU tests are just excuses.  

On Monday, Volkswagen settled for up to $1.6 billion (€1.5 billion) in Canada, and Bosch settled for more than $300 million for its role.  

The EU’s draft report of the emissions scandal can be read here. 

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