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EU Poised to Water Down New Car Pollution Rules After Industry Lobbying

The EU is poised to water down a landmark piece of car pollutiaon legislation after extensive lobbying from the automotive industry, which experts say will cause an estimated €100bn in health and environmental costs.

Analysis provided by the Consortium for Ultra-low Vehicle Emissions (Clove) exclusively to the Guardian and Voxeurop shows that half of the projected financial savings from the new Euro 7 standards on car emissions will be lost due to damage caused by excess nitrogen dioxide. This toxic gas is the main contaminant released by combustion engines, especially diesel ones, and was responsible for 49,000 premature deaths in the EU and 5,750 in the UK in just one year.

Clove, whose members include Europe’s top academic, research and business specialists in the automotive sector, acted as paid consultants for the European Commission – in effect the EU’s civil service – to examine the most effective policy options for Euro 7, the latest in a series of bills regulating pollution from car emissions.

Clove experts recommended significantly reducing the amount of nitrogen dioxide that vehicles are allowed to emit, and tightening real driving conditions in the approval tests for new models.

However, under an agreement made by the EU’s 27 member states in September, limits for nitrogen dioxide (and other harmful pollutants such as ultrafine particles), as well as approval tests, would be practically unchanged from those in the previous legislation, Euro 6. The only significant reform is that limits on particulate emission from tyres and brakes would be regulated for the first time.

Carmakers had said the commission’s proposal was “entirely disproportionate, driving high costs for industry and customers with limited environmental benefits”. The European parliament is due to vote on the Euro 7 proposal on Thursday.

Clove says the costs for the industry to produce cleaner vehicles – estimated at about €30bn – would be far less than the expected €182bn benefit to the EU that stronger restrictions on road pollution could have brought.

“Our cost-benefit analysis is based on transparent modelling assumptions and a thorough dialogue with all stakeholders, including carmakers and automotive suppliers,” said Prof Zissis Samaras, a coordinator of Clove.

Carmakers lobbied extensively for the proposed reforms to be watered down. Emails and minutes obtained by the Guardian and Voxeurop through freedom of information requests show that the commission was lobbied heavily by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (Acea).

In a secret meeting on 1 June 2022 between a representative of the European commissioner for the single market, Thierry Breton, and the then chair of Acea, Oliver Zipse, who is also the CEO of BMW, carmakers argued against strict nitrogen dioxide emissions limits and in favour of keeping weak approval tests.

Minutes show that the representative assured the lobbyist that the commission would “set ambitious but feasible requirements”. The proposal presented by the commission in November 2022 largely adopted the emission limits recommended by the industry, against the advice given by Clove consultants and despite the EU having spent €80m on projects, often with carmakers, showing that affordable upgrades to reduce emissions were possible with current technologies.

The meeting between the commission representative and Acea was not declared on the public transparency register, despite it being mandatory to disclose such meetings.

“The meeting was not recorded on time due to an administrative oversight. It has been recorded now,” a commission spokesperson said.

Several sources indicated that lower exhaust emissions limits were traded off by the commission as part of an unspoken deal to secure industry support for the EU-wide phase-out of combustion engines in 2035.

Matthias Johansson, the head of public affairs at Volvo, told the Guardian that a stringent Euro 7 would require “committing resources and engineers back to combustion engine technology which will become obsolete in just a few years from now”.

Legislative proposals by the commission have to be approved by national governments, and a weak initial proposal leaves less room for negotiations

Environmental NGOs criticised the weakened legislation. Anna Krajinska, the manager of vehicle emissions and air quality at Transport & Environment, said: “Ninety-five million new vehicles certified as Euro 7 will be sold until 2035. Without effective rules reducing emissions, many of these vehicles will keep poisoning our air until at least 2050, above the safeguards recommended by the WHO.” She said the Euro 7 proposal was a “greenwashed Euro 6”.

In practice, legal emission limits are still often exceeded, recent testing has found. Experts say current laboratory measurements fail to capture real driving conditions, for example in older cars, in cold temperatures, or for trips shorter than 16km (10 miles), which typically take place in urban areas.

Industry opposition to upgrading emissions tests echoes the 2015 Dieselgate scandal, where manufacturers used software trickery to circumvent the rules capping tailpipe fumes.

The International Council on Clean Transportation said a timely enforcement of the commission proposal would prevent 7,300 premature deaths in the EU by 2050.

Krajinska said: “For each billion earned by a few carmakers, European citizens will lose several billions in diseases, hospitalisations, degradation of natural assets and other social costs. Member states should be ashamed for putting profiteers’ interests over the health of their own citizens.”

The commission and Acea confirmed that the June 2022 meeting had taken place. “Acea did indeed refer to proposals for Euro 7, which had been sent to Commissioner Breton,” an Acea spokesperson said.

A commission spokesperson said: “The Euro 7 proposal is not the result of the requests from one stakeholder, but rather the fruit of a careful examination … following a very wide consultation with all stakeholders.”

Source : The Guardian