“License to Pollute” overturned by top European court

The General Court of the European Union upholds action brought by cities: annuls in part the European Commission’s regulation setting excessively high NOx emission limits tests introduced following Dieselgate scandal

The General Court of the European Union today found in favor of a legal case brought by the cities of Paris, Madrid and Brussels to challenge vehicle emissions regulations set by the European Commission and agreed by national governments. The court found that the Commission did not have the power to amend emission limits for the new real driving emission tests, introduced following the Dieselgate scandal.

For too long car manufacturers and industrial lobbies have been able to dictate the rules that regulate some of their most polluting products. Today, the General Court of the European Union backed our argument that this is a betrayal of the people of Europe.

Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris and Chair of C40

Regulation 2016/646, introduced in the wake of the “Dieselgate” scandal, mandates the maximum acceptable NOx emissions from diesel-engine vehicles during real driving emissions (RDE) tests. Rather than enforcing the 80 mg/km NOx emission limits agreed by the European Parliament in 2007, the European Commission, under intense lobbying from the auto-manufacturing industry, granted manufacturers time to gradually adapt to the new RDE rules.

“From September 2017 for new models and from September 2019 for new vehicles, NOx emissions can legally exceed the 80 mg/km limit by up to 110%. From January 2020 for new models and from January 2021 for new vehicles, NOx emissions can still legally exceed the 80 mg/km limit by up to 50%.” says the regulation.

The European Commission now has 12 months to amend the legislation in order to bring into compliance with today’s ruling.

Jeremie Assous, the lawyer representing Paris, Brussels and Madrid, successfully argued that these emissions limits are what Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo has called “a licence to pollute” and a regression of existing European Environmental law designed to protect public health and improve air quality. The Regulation was described as a “betrayal of the Paris Agreement” for its failure to transition to clean vehicles needed to curb climate change.

In their ruling, judges also noted that “an action for annulment brought by a person other than a Member State or an EU institution against a regulatory act is admissible.”

Reflecting the growing authority of cities as defenders of public health and climate action, the ruling sets a new legal precedent that local authorities can challenge the European Commission in court for their failure to improve the air quality in cities and communities across the EU.

“The General Court concludes that the Commission had no power to amend those limits for the RDE tests by applying correction coefficients. It further holds that even if it had to be accepted that technical constraints may justify a certain adjustment, a difference such as that stemming from the contested regulation means that it is impossible to know whether the Euro 6 standard is complied with during those tests. The General Court makes clear that the lack of competence on the part of the Commission established necessarily implies an infringement of Regulation No 715/2007.” says the General Court press release.

Cities are now empowered, and industrial lobbies must now know that cities have the political capacity and legal authority to stop the future we don’t want. Citizens deserve a liveable, healthy and sustainable future, and this decision, will allow mayors to build trust and foster action for tomorrow.

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