The European Parliament has postponed a vote on air pollution limits for cars after some politicians argued that the legislation should be more restrictive than the current proposals.
The existing plan would allow cars to continue emitting more than twice the official limits on nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions which are often blamed for premature death and respiratory diseases.
Following revelations in September that Volkswagen had been using defeat devices in its vehicles to evade regulators, political momentum has picked up for stricter limits.
In December, the European Parliament’s environment committee rejected the draft car emission rules agreed by representatives of the block’s 28 member states on the basis that they were not stringent enough.
At the time, Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, a Dutch Liberal member of parliament and member of the environment committee described the proposed limits as a ‘disgrace’ especially in light of the fact that emission-control technologies ‘are available and affordable today’.
The postponed vote pits lawmakers, who side with automakers pushing for the compromised proposal to be adopted now, against environmentalists seeking tougher rules.
Rebecca Harms, co-head of the Green group which resides in the European Parliament, argued that the voting delay was an attempt to prevent a definitive rejection of the watered down plans.
"The clear intention ... is to prevent this fundamentally-flawed driving emissions test procedure from being rejected," Harms said. "This may be in the interest of some laggards in the car industry, but it is clearly not in the interest of Europe's citizens."
The current proposal aims to close the gap between vehicles emissions tests and real road conditions from 2017 to curb toxic discharges that have surged to more than seven times their European limits.
After 2020, it would still allow a 50 per cent overshoot above the legal ceiling for nitrogen oxide readings of 80 milligrams/kilometre.
Yet the centre-right European People's Party argued that rejecting the draft law would delay changes to old limits while a new proposal is constructed, and the automotive industry would lack certainty to make business adjustments and invest in cleaner technology in the meantime.
If parliament rejects the proposal, it could mean a delay of around two years while the EU executive drafts a new one.