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European court rules EU diesel emissions limit too high

Smog over Paris in 2016
Smog over Paris in 2016 REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

The city councils of Paris, Madrid and Brussels were exultant on Thursday after a European court ruled an EU Commission's limit on NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions was "excessively high". The court upheld the case brought by the three cities, which stated the limit undermined their efforts to crack down on pollution.


The EU's General Court "annuls in part the Commission’s regulation setting excessively high oxides of nitrogen emission limits for the tests for new light passenger and commercial vehicles", a statement said.

The commission had raised the limit on road tests on light passenger and commercial vehicle for highly polluting NOx emissions to more than twice the level for laboratory tests.

Diesel motors are primarily responsible for NOx emissions.

The move was approved by the European parliament in 2015, just weeks after the Dieselgate scandal, in which Volkswagen was found to have cheated emissions tests.

On Thursday, the court conceded that conditions while driving in the open air are different. But it found that the change made it impossible to know whether the Euro 6 standard, adopted in 2007, was being complied with during the tests.

It rejected the commission's claim that the city councils could not bring the case and ordered the decision to be annulled.

However, the commission may appeal and, even if that appeal is rejected, there will be a 12-month period in which a substitute law must be drawn up and approved, meaning that a final ruling may not be delivered until the end of 2020.

Environmental campaigners joined the city council leaders in enthusiastically welcoming the ruling.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo hailed it as historic.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo hails a "historic victory for the #environment"

The C40 cities group was also positive.

And so was Belgian Greenpeace spokesperson Joeri Thijs.

Belgian Greenpeace spokesperson welcomes decision

There was one crumb of comfort for the commission, however.

The court rejected Paris's claim for one euro in nominal damages for harm to its image and legitimacy on the grounds that " such damage is not proven, but would in any event be sufficiently compensated for by the annulment of the provision at issue".

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