However, calls have come for independent body to lead checks rather than governmentâ€™s Vehicle Certification Agency
A government agency is to investigate whether carmakers in the UK have manipulated diesel emissions testing, in order â€œto ensure that the issue is not industry-wideâ€.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced yesterday (September 24) that, in the wake of the Volkswagen scandal, the Vehicle Certification Agency would lead the probe into UK motor industry emissions practices and that it would re-run past car emissions tests if necessary.
This comes despite assurances from UK trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) that the VW scandal is â€œnot an industry-wide issueâ€ and that emissions testing the EU is much harder to manipulate than in the US.
However, with the Vehicle Certification Agency partly funded by the UK motor industry, calls have come for an independent body to carry out the probe, and for DfT itself to be investigated.
Meanwhile, Parliamentâ€™s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is also considering an inquiry into the diesel emissions testing in the wake of the news that Volkswagen software designed to manipulate emissions tests also involved cars in Europe and 11 million cars worldwide (see AirQualityNews.com story).
Transport Secretary Mr McLoughlin MP said yesterday that he took the â€œunacceptable actions of VW extremely seriouslyâ€ and that his â€œpriority is to protect the public as we go through the process of investigating what went wrong and what we can do to stop it happening again in the futureâ€.
He had earlier this week called for a Europe-wide investigation into the VW scandal and whether cars in the EU have been fitted with defeat devices to make them appear less polluting during testing than in reality.
MEPs have been discussing the issue this week, with support voiced for a wider investigation and a new EU body to oversee emissions checks in future. The European Commission has also vowed to â€œget to the bottomâ€ of the VW case, but no concrete plans for an investigation have yet surfaced.
Mr McLoughlin said: â€œIn the meantime we are taking robust action. The Vehicle Certification Agency, the UK regulator, is working with vehicle manufacturers to ensure that this issue is not industry wide.
â€œAs part of this work they will re-run laboratory tests where necessary and compare them against real world driving emissions.â€
Both NGO ClientEarth and campaign group Friends of the Earth have backed calls for the UK diesel emissions investigation to be carried out by an independent body rather than by the governmentâ€™s Vehicle Certification Agency.
Alan Andrews, air pollution lawyer at ClientEarth â€“ the NGO which won a landmark ruling against the government at the Supreme Court over NO2 pollution earlier this year â€“ said the Transport Secretaryâ€™s announcement represented a â€œhumiliating U-turn by the governmentâ€.
He said the UK investigation had come about after â€œgrowing pressure from the public and a legal letter from ourselves rather than because of any real concern for the health of millions of people affected by air pollutionâ€.
Mr Andrews said: â€œHowever, we are still concerned testing could be carried out by the Vehicle Certification Agency â€“ a government agency which gets funding from the motor industry. We will be seeking reassurances that any investigation is quick, independentÂ and 100% transparent.â€
Friends of the Earthâ€™s head of campaigns, Andrew Pendleton welcomed the governmentâ€™s announcement, but argued that â€œgiven the severity of the US allegations and seriousness of the problem, itâ€™s important that all necessary resources are provided to conduct laboratory and real-life tests wholly independent of car companiesâ€.
He said: â€œFor years, experts have been finding wide discrepancies between the promised emissions of diesel vehicles and the way they perform in reality.
â€œThe investigation must be the beginning of action that sees the UK clean up the air of its cities and go diesel-free as soon as possible by promoting electric vehicles and encouraging safe walking and cycling as the default for all possible journeys. This will dramatically cut deaths from air pollution and improve health.â€