EU Parliament Stalls On Emissions Rules

As Renault factories are raided by police and London exceeds its yearly pollution limits, legislators chose to defer vote.

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The European Parliament has elected to postpone a vote that may decide the future of Europe's car industry, choosing instead to tread water and hope for compromise. A battle rages at the highest levels across the Atlantic, pitting environmentalists against lawmakers as both try to reconcile the aftermath of Volkswagen's diesel emissions-test cheating software. This latest development indicates that no clear solution is on the horizon.

Public opinion towards European automakers suffered a body blow in the wake of Dieselgate. Interest in VW's U.S. operations has waned but, in Europe, VW and its subsidiaries are an everyday concern. On one hand, they provide jobs and transportation. On the other, their cars continue to pollute at well above legal limits, sometimes as much as seven times the allowable amount.

The current proposal would bring vehicles emissions testing closer to real-world road conditions by 2017, allowing vehicles to continue emitting pollutants at twice officially allowable levels. By 2020, allowable emissions overshoots would be reduced to 50 percent above legal NOx levels. Essentially, by loosening up current legal limits, the aim was to give car companies some breathing room to adapt to the changes, as well as establishing a road-map for future development.

However, fearing that the compromise would be roundly rejected by environmental parties, the 28 members of the European Parliament have deferred the vote, delaying the vote until February in hopes that further discussion will somehow create agreement. Green group co-head Rebecca Harms condemned the delay, saying, “This may be in the interest of some laggards in the car industry but it is clearly not in the interest of Europe's citizens.”

If the compromise is scrapped, it could be as long as two years before another option emerges.

Meanwhile, Renault factory sites were raided by police last week on suspicion that the French automaker was fudging test numbers in the same manner as VW. No immediate findings were published, but stock prices took a tumble. Consumer confidence is low. Public outrage is high. London has already exceeded its pollution limits for 2016. The fog caused by VW's pollution cheating has yet to lift, but the overwhelming sense is that when it does, the industry will be forever changed.