Wednesday 15 August 2018

German court defers ruling on banning diesel cars in cities

judges said the process had taken longer than expected and set a date of February 27 for a ruling.

Environment activists stand in front of the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig (Sebastian Willnow/dpa via AP)
Environment activists stand in front of the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig (Sebastian Willnow/dpa via AP)

By Frank Jordans, in Berlin

A German court has deferred a decision on whether to allow a ban on diesel cars in cities to lower air pollution.

The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig began hearing the case on Thursday and had been expected to issue a verdict within hours.

But judges said the process had taken longer than expected and set a date of February 27 for a ruling.

The court 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.

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People wait for the beginning of a trial in the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig (Sebastian Willnow/dpa via AP)

If judges reject the appeal, 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 the group Environmental Action Germany, which accuses the government of putting car makers’ interests before people’s health.

“We expect to be protected, that decisions will be taken which bring down emissions to a level that provides a healthy living for us,” said Axel Friedrich, a representative of the group.

German car manufacturer Volkswagen was found three years ago to have used in-car software to cheat on US diesel emissions tests. The discovery resulted in large fines and costly buybacks for Volkswagen in the United States, but the German government has refrained from punishing the company, a major employer that is partly owned by the state of Lower Saxony.

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An environment activist protests with a poster saying ‘Clean air is our right’ outside the court (Sebastian Willnow/dpa via AP)

Apart from hitting Volkswagen and other German car makers, officials warn that a ban could paralyse 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 that do not conform to emissions limits.

Protesters outside the Leipzig court said a diesel ban would make a positive difference in their lives.

“When I cycle, especially in winter, I have to breathe the emissions,” said Manfred Niess from Stuttgart. “I avoid breathing in deeply so as not to inhale all the poison.”

Press Association

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