National governments are supposed to protect their citizens from threats like climate change. They are also supposed to provide a regulatory environment that promotes full employment and a high standard of living. Those separate goals often clash with each other. Take real world emissions testing, for example. Everyone with an IQ higher than the average chihuahua knows the car companies cheat like crazy when it comes to accurately reporting fuel economy and emissions testing results.
What’s a responsible government to do? One answer is to take a page from the Ronald Reagan playbook — trust but verify. Take some production cars, slap some accurate testing equipment on them, then drive them around on public roads and record the results. That is precisely what led to discovery of the pervasive culture of diesel emissions cheating at Volkswagen.
On the one hand, the European Union has enacted some of the toughest emissions standards around, but it now appears that individual countries are willing to cut the legs out from under those regulations in order to protect local manufacturers. Here’s the thinking. If testing shows indigenous companies are not in compliance with the rules, that could lead to a decrease in consumer confidence in the brand. That could lead to lower sales which would result in layoffs.
Unemployed workers are seldom kind to the politicians in power when it comes election time. (Can you say “Donald Trump.” boys and girls?) Since the number one goal of every politician is to get re-elected, full employment is key to remaining in office.
Following Dieselgate, the European commission empowered the Joint Research Center, its respected science arm, to inspect vehicles separately from national authorities who have a vested interest in protecting businesses within their borders. However, The Guardian reports that an EU pledge to “organize and carry out” emissions tests has been deleted from a draft regulation which will be discussed by EU ministers this week in Brussels. A modest proposal that the EU monitor national emissions tests and make sure regulators are applying the rules has also been watered down.
Julia Poliscanova, a spokeswoman for the green advocacy group Transport and Environment says: “There is a Mexican standoff going on, with governments afraid to act against their own fraudulent carmakers for fear it will put their domestic industry at a competitive disadvantage. This scandalous stalemate results from national governments prioritizing the interests of domestic car makers above citizens’ need to breathe clean air. National vehicle regulators in Europe have been captured by the car industry.” Sounds an awful lot like America under the Trumpster, doesn’t it?
Millions of polluting diesel cars remain on European roads despite research showing they emit up to three times the current standard for nitrogen oxide pollution in real world driving. Last week, the European Environment Agency increased its estimate of premature deaths caused by air pollution in Europe each year to 467,000. France is the only country that supports independent emissions tests according to T&E.
Europe’s car regulations have historically provided a global benchmark for best emissions practice. But after the VW scandal, countries such as China have begun realigning their systems with US testing norms, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation, which first revealed the Dieselgate story. A final decision on the new European emissions testing regime is expected in February.