Europe’s Foul Plan on ‘Clean Diesel’
The raid on Renault focuses attention on EU moves to relax standards on nitrogen oxides
French investigators have raided offices of Renault, including those involved in regulatory certification and engine control systems. Testing by a watchdog group had already shown that the company’s cars were emitting as much as 25 times the levels of nitrogen oxides allowed by the European Union. Nitrogen oxides, common in diesel exhaust, are carcinogenic and a main component of smog. They also contribute to climate change, albeit not as much as the carbon dioxide from gasoline engines. More than half of new cars sold in Europe are diesels.
Speculation is widespread that the Renault raid is meant to find evidence of a “defeat device” such as that used by Volkswagen to game U.S. emissions testing. Device or not, if it turns out Renault’s cars are spewing more emissions than were measured by Europe’s easily outmaneuvered testing lab system, they need to be taken off the road. Unfortunately, Europe seems intent on keeping them there.
Largely at the behest of Germany, which has the world’s fourth-largest auto industry, the European Parliament has been moving to water down NOx standards severely. Under a proposed plan, cars would be able to exceed future NOx limits in on-road testing by as much as 110 percent until January 2020, and by 50 percent thereafter. A vote on the diluted standards has been delayed until early February, after the body’s environmental committee overwhelmingly recommended rejecting them. This will give manufacturers more time to make their case.
A Renault scandal seems unlikely to change this political picture, in part because the French government owns 20 percent of the company. But even if the EU wants to cling to its dream of “clean diesel,” European countries and cities shouldn’t. The German government, in particular, should rethink its decision to reject a proposal to raise taxes on diesel cars. Many European cities have their own clean-air laws that could be applied to bus and taxi fleets or to keeping polluting cars out of crowded urban centers, as Paris has pledged