A German court is considering whether authorities should ban diesel cars from cities to lower air pollution, a move which could have drastic consequences for the country’s powerful vehicle industry.
The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig is hearing an appeal by two German states against lower court rulings that suggested driving bans for particularly dirty diesel cars would be effective and should be seriously considered as a means of protecting public health.
The court has said a verdict could be issued as early as later on Thursday.
If judges reject the appeal in favour of driving bans, dozens of cities would have a few months to enact measures to remove heavily polluting diesel vehicles from the roads – an administrative nightmare for local authorities and a heavy blow to drivers who bought cars they were promised met emissions standards.
The original court cases were brought by environmental campaigners, who accuse the government of putting car-makers’ interests before people’s health.
German car manufacturer Volkswagen was found three years ago to have used in-car software to cheat US diesel emissions tests.
The discovery resulted in large fines and costly buybacks for VW in the United States, but the German government has refrained from punishing VW, a major employer which is partly owned by the state of Lower Saxony.
Apart from hitting Volkswagen and other German car-makers, officials warn that a ban could paralsze bus companies, rubbish collection services and tradespeople who rely heavily on diesel vehicles.
The European Union is also putting pressure on Germany and other countries for failing to rein in air pollution.
In a bid to avoid punitive action by the EU, German officials recently proposed a series of steps to reduce harmful emissions, including making public transport free on days when air pollution is particularly bad, and requiring taxis and car-sharing companies to use electric vehicles.
Car-makers are particularly worried about another government proposal: forcing them to physically upgrade millions of vehicles which do not conform to emissions limits.