EXCLUSIVE: European Commissioner for the Environment, Janez PotoÄnik, speaks to airqualitynews.com about UK air quality breaches and EU diesel engine regulations
The UK could still avoid potential fines and other sanctions from the European Court of Justice for breaching air quality rules, Environment Commissioner Janez PotoÄnik has told AirQualityNews.
Speaking earlier this week, Mr PotoÄnik reflected on the potential for tighter limits on vehicles emissions which could feature in the UK response to its alleged failure to plan for reductions in NOX levels in certain areas.
In February this year the Commission announced it was to pursue legal action against the UK government for breaches of nitrogen dioxide limits in 16 or 43 zones and failing to reduce concentrations by the 2010 deadline (see airqualitynews.com story).
Mr PotoÄnik said he expected that vehicle emissions reductions and future targets would be considered by the UK with regard to its internal programme â€œwhere they have a problem of NOX emission to addressâ€.
And, he emphasised there was still the possibility of the UK avoiding the final stage of court proceedings: â€œAbsolutely, we hope that we can avoid the Court hearing but on the other hand we will not to hesitate to go if it becomes apparent it is what we need to do.
â€œSometimes there are mixed messages. When you go to the first court hearing, thatâ€™s not about penalties yet.
â€œWe have a system that after that hearing, there is the possibility of the Member State respondingÂ Â to the court ruling which could see the Member State acting and then only if it comes to the second ruling this could include pretty high penalties and also the daily penalty.â€
The European Commission is hoping for support in its work to reduce emissions from vehicles, Mr PotoÄnik said.
Mr PotoÄnik also defended the Commission against any notion that it was at fault over the failure of Euro 4 and 5 measures to reduce pollution from diesel engines in motor vehicles.
â€œThis is not a fair criticism,â€ he said. â€œI absolutely agree that emissions from new transport, from new sources must be regulated to a new level, that is the beginning of the story.â€
But, he said he recognised that there is a problem with diesel vehicles.
â€œThere is indeed a major problem with real world NOX emissions from diesel vehicles which are much higher in real driving conditions than when they are tested. This is a major problem for the credibility of the European vehicle manufacturers – and it can be fixed by a new test cycle but the Commission only makes a proposal and the Member States have the crucial decision making power. That power of course includes fixing the deadline to fix the problem.â€
Referring to the Clean Air Policy Package published in December 2013, the Commissioner said: â€œThat is one of the proposals in that legislation package, if I remember well 2016, quite soon.â€
However, Mr PotoÄnik reflected on the difficulties that might lie ahead. â€œOn the one hand we will have manufacturers who call for long lead times and the Commission is consistently arguing for short deadlines to relieve the strain on air quality, and again Member States will have the deciding voice. So the failure to control vehicle emissions at source is ultimately in the hand of Member States and I am absolutely looking forward to the UK support in the upcoming discussions.â€
In a written Parliamentary answer on April 28 2013, UK air quality minister Dan Rogerson, told Parliament that â€œmeeting EU standards for nitrogen dioxide remains a challenge for many large urban areas in the UK and across Europe. In 2011 DEFRA submitted estimates of the year each part of the UK would meet these standards to the European Commission. The assumptions behind our projections are regularly reviewed to reflect new understanding and we expect to have new projections available later this year.â€