One step back

Under pressure from the industry, the Australian government relaxes petrol and diesel emission standards

Published: Thursday 15 July 1999

the Australian government is finding it difficult to defend its environmental 'wins' after leaked papers revealed that diesel emission standards were likely to be reduced. According to newspaper reports, the National Road Transport Commission had agreed on a time period to introduce new petrol and diesel emission standards and called for the phased introduction of the new levels from the year 2002.

With the backing of the National Environment Protection Council, it asked for members to comment on the changes. "Exhaustive consultation has been undertaken with vehicle manufacturers, engine-makers, fuel suppliers, state agencies and other interested parties," the commission's chief executive said in a statement. "The proposed amendments are considered justified, practical and achievable."

But Tasmanian Greens Senator Bob Brown does not think so. He said any environmental gains would be swamped by increased pollution from petrol and diesel rebates. "The government's environmentally-friendly package has turned out to be a dirty deal incurring serious health and environmental penalties for all Australians," he said.

In a statement before the Kyoto climate conference in 1997, prime minister John Howard promised air pollution controls would meet international standards by 2006 to which the bus and truck industry had agreed.

Under the deal, the sulphur content of diesel will be down to 500 parts per million (ppm) by the end of 2002 and possibly by 2000 in urban areas. The diesel standard by 2006 was set at 50 ppm. But with the current diesel emission standards, Australia seems nowhere near achieving the target. At present, Australian diesel contains an average 1,300 ppm of sulphur. It is among the highest in the world. The Opposition's environment spokesperson, Senator Nick Bolkus, said the Democrats had agreed to an even longer time frame for light vehicles than that recommended by the industry.

For the Democrats, Senator Lyn Allison admitted the levels might have been reduced anyway but said that there was never a guarantee and pollution measures had now been accelerated. She accused the Opposition and the Greens of being in a "desperate search for relevance".

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