European Union Committee Clashing Over How to Tighten Emissions Rules and Testing

European Union lawmakers are under pressure to reform vehicle emissions testing, and have come to a split on how to carry it out.

Members of the Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer-Protection committee last week debated changes on how to reform the regulatory structure to avoid another Dieselgate scandal that started a year ago in the U.S. for Volkswagen. The EU, representing 28 member nations, has been under pressure to tighten the rules and avoid further charges of having been too lax with automakers in the past.

British Conservative MEP (member in the European Parliament) Dan Dalton has been charged with coordinating the committee’s response to the European Commission proposal on revised emissions testing rules. Dalton’s suggested changes have not been welcomed by many committee members and it is unclear how many of the suggestions will survive, according to WardsAuto.

Dalton has proposed scaling back the proposal that would give the EC greater oversight in compliance testing. He would prefer having a peer-review system in place and a “forum of enforcement” where member states would play an important role. Dalton would also like to see the length of the approval process extended from the EC proposed five years to eight years.

Dalton has also proposed blocking plans for a proposed fee structure that he thinks would weaken the testing and approval process. The EC would like to see automakers pay national approval authorities to set up emissions testing centers. That would be a change from the current method where automakers pay the testing companies direction, and which has been seen as a conflict of interest and blamed for contributing to the Dieselgate scandal.

Dalton instead advocates requirements for member countries to fund market surveillance through on-road testing. A switch to real-driving emissions testing using on-car portable emissions measurement devices would have provided more accurate testing and was more likely to have caught VW, he said.

“If someone is going to cheat, they’re going to cheat,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what system you start from. There is no model that (would have) stopped VW. VW managed to get around every single system in the world.”

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Opponents of Dalton’s proposal say that it’s not enough to deal with the core issues that allowed for cheating to continue in emissions testing for several years.

Danish Socialist and Democrat Christel Schaldemose said her group does not back Dalton. Giving responsibility to member nations is not enough.

“You don’t reform, you just keep more or less the present system,” Schaldemose said.

Other opposing arguments have focused on backing the EC’s plan and giving control to the overseeing agency instead of giving individual nations too much power. Automakers may carry too much weight in a handful of influential countries.

“If the French government owns 20 percent of shares in Renault, how can they possibly apply pressure to them? The same goes for the Italian government and its historic links with Fiat,” said Italian MEP Marco Zullo.

EU has been considering testing vehicles on roads rather than in laboratories to stop illusive tactics such as VW’s “defeat device,” which diverted accurate reporting. Diverting accurate testing allowed VW diesel cars to emit toxic nitrogen oxide emissions capable of going up to seven times their European limits.

Chris Grundler, director of the EPA’s transportation and air quality office, submitted written comments last week before an EU committee investigating cheating on diesel-car emissions tests. He said new EU road testing rules are not going to resolve the problem.

“The European test cycle has been acknowledged quite broadly since the 1990s to be inadequate,” Grundler said in his comments reported by Automotive News. “Our experience has been that a comprehensive approach is required that means testing vehicles in use as well as having the authority to then follow through enforcement actions.”

Tougher emissions laws are coming up in 2020 to tighten hitting vehicle emissions targets. During the Paris Motor Show, a few automotive executives expressed concerns that the cost of compliance won’t go over with car buyers. VW brand chairman Herbert Diess thinks that the additional technology needed for compliance will raise the cost of diesels by 2,000 euros per car (about $2,200).

“That might change the product mix a little bit,” Diess said at the Paris show last week to Automotive News. “In smaller cars, will the customer still be prepared to pay a price of an additional 2,000 euros? Probably not.”