European Parliament says ‘NO’ to flawed car emission tests

"Non-compliance with air pollution control rules cannot be tolerated and neither can gambling with human lives" Jonas Helseth, Director at Bellona Europa.
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Publish date: December 16, 2015

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee passed a resolution on 14 December 2015 blocking a controversial proposal that waters down new EU car emission testing rules, the so-called real driving emissions test (RDE) agreed by Member States in October. In its resolution the Parliament urges the Commission to re-submit a new proposal for the introduction of impartial car emission tests by 1 April 2016, which would deliver accurate data representative of on-road emissions and leave no room for exemptions. Given the gravity of the emission testing scandal and its associated human health and environmental impacts, Bellona strongly supports the rejection of an emission testing proposal that fails short of rectifying loopholes in the exisitng system.

«While revelations about car maker companies cheating emission tests may have shocked many, Bellona has been mainly shocked by the lack of rapid and effective response to the issue from European leadership. In fact, the Commission’s original, more ambitious proposal for the new emission testing rules, has fallen pray to the influence of the car maker lobby and Member States. The Commission needs to react accordingly to the Parliament’s rejection of the new rules, if it wishes to avoid having its credibility seriously undermined» reacts Jonas Helseth, Director at Bellona Europa.

The Volkswagen scandal shocked the whole world by reveiling an inconvenient truth about the car maker industry: the commonplace nature of fraudulent practices and test manipulations to produce artificially low emission results and fake compliance with EU regulations. Over the past months the scandal has spread over a growing number of car makers, now affecting Audi, Porsche, Renault and Opel. What is more, one of Daimler’s Mercedes diesel models was earlier today added to the list, on the basis of findings by the University of Applied Sciences in Bern, stating that the company’s 2011 model released NOx emissions that were twice the legal limits when tested with a warm engine under currently in use, New European Testing Cycles (NEDC) system. The list of ‘named and shamed’ car makers will likely keep expanding.

What the Parliament is saying ‘NO’ to

The controversial decision that was agreed on in October by EU Member States would create tests with such major loopholes (also called ‘compliance factors’) that it would enable car manufacturers to produce and sell cars that exceed EU legal limits for NOx pollutants permanently and by a significant factor. It seems clear that not only will the proposed system fail to address the shortcomings of the currently in use ‘New European Driving Cycle’ (NEDC) laboratory test, but it might also make things worse.

«We urgently need to see the introduction of an impartial testing system, which leaves no loopholes and allows no exemptions. Non-compliance with air pollution control rules cannot be tolerated and neither can gambling with human lives» argues Helseth.

While the European Commission’s original proposal was more ambitious, it has been watered down by Member States and persistent pressure from the car maker industry. The car maker lobby also proved its influence on the EU policy making arena in October when the Commission agreed to delay the introduction of the RDE for all existing car types by one year, thus delaying urgently needed measures to cut down high levels of air pollutants observed in a majority of European cities.

Leaving the emission testing scandal unrectified leaves an ever increasing proportion of our population at the exposure of high levels of dangerous air pollutants and associated health risks. As a matter of fact, the latest report of the European Environment Agency estimates that air pollution continues to be responsible for more than 430 000 premature deaths in Europe, making it the single largest environmental health risk on the continent.

Monday’s Environment Committee objection was passed with 40 in favor, 9 against, and 13 abstentions. While this is an overwhelming majority, whether the objection gets adopted remains to be seen following the Parliament’s plenary vote expected in January 2016.