Petrol cars allowed to exceed pollution limits by 50% under draft EU laws

October 26, 2016

New petrol cars sold in Europe will be allowed to exceed toxic particulate emissions limits by 50%, in a plan environmental campaigners have branded a ‘Petrolgate scandal in the making’.  

Proposals will raise the EU’s pollution standard by 50% above the legal limit set down in EURO-6 regulations, in a draft EU motion backed by the UK and most other EU countries.  

Campaigners argue that a simple €25 (£22) filter could drastically cut the emissions.  

‘With this ridiculous proposal, the EU’s member states are again trying to dilute EU laws at a terrible cost to human health,’ said Bas Eickhout, a Green MEP on the European parliament’s environment committee and Dieselgate inquiry panel. ‘We will call on the European Commission to come to the European Parliament and explain themselves on this issue.’  

Particulate matter (PM) is the greatest single contributor to Europe’s 600,000 premature deaths from pollution-related heart and lung diseases each year. Children and the elderly are worst affected. The World Health Organization says it leads to European health costs up to €1.6 trillion a year. Diesel and petrol engines are one of the largest sources of particulate emissions.  

Carmakers have nevertheless mounted a successful push for loopholes and legislative delay, and behind the scenes have indefatigably pushed for a colossal 300% margin over legal limits.  

Draft legislation is still being debated before a final resolution in December, so further concessions may still be granted. Car-producing EU countries have been receptive to calls by the automotive industry to delay implementing the new legislation. Spain and Sweden have argued for a one-year delay, which would postpone its implementation until 2019. While the UK took no formal position on the date of the implementation of the regulation, it cautioned against ‘unintended adverse affects’ if PM limits were imposed at an earlier date than those for NOx emissions, whose standards begin in 2019.  

Uncertainties in emissions tests last year led to the committee raising the NOx limit to more than double that in the EURO-6 regulations.  

Clean vehicles engineer Florent Grelier of campaign group Transport and Environment (T&E) fears EU endeavours to improve air quality are being ‘bent to the will of the automotive industry’. She told the Guardian: ‘This is a Petrolgate scandal in the making. Unless the European Commission and governments establish strict test procedures to protect the industry from its own short-sightedness, within a few years we will see continuing high levels of particles killing hundreds of thousands of citizens prematurely.’  

While diesel emissions legislation has taken the spotlight following the Volkswagen emissions scandal, this has taken the limelight off another serious flaw in EU emissions legislation on the petrol side.  

Under EU law, carmakers must use filters for diesel engines, but not for the uncontrolled gasoline direct injection engines, which make up 40% of the petrol engine market and whose use is expeditiously growing. These engines release more particulate matter than diesel cars.  

According to research by T&E, gasoline particulate filters that would reduce emissions by a factor of around 100 would cost manufacturers just €25 per car. However, car manufacturers are against the idea, saying that it would breach the core EU principle of technological neutrality – which advocates a targets-approach, fostering innovation through different technologies competing to meet those targets, rather than risking technological entrapment in a technology that may prove sub-optimal. 

The news follows a major study finding that new diesels produce 4.5 times more emissions than the EURO-6 standard, with some producing emissions equivalent to 22 cars.

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