Europeans drive a lot of diesel-powered vehicles. This is intentional. Since diesel is inherently more efficient than gasoline, many European countries give tax advantages to diesel fuel. In response, automakers in Europe offer several small diesel vehicles with high-torque engines, offering high mileage and practicality. Now, after decades of diesel burning, the European Commission will be publishing legislative proposals to improve air quality in the second half of this year and EU officials are already saying that European Union nations have to reduce emissions from diesel vehicles.

"Diesel vehicles are more efficient, but they emit a higher level of nitrogen dioxide than regular vehicles" - Jacqueline McGlade

The new rules follow recent enactment of tougher vehicle emissions standards and will be joined by an introduction of stricter vehicle testing standards. Air pollution has become a more pressing issue in Europe now that cancer risk was linked to diesel vehicles in a study last year by the World Health Organization. "Diesel vehicles are more efficient, but they emit a higher level of nitrogen dioxide than regular vehicles," said Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of EU body the European Environment Agency.

The European Commission thinks that nitrogen dioxide, combined with other pollutants such as particulate matter, which are generated by smoke and vehicle emissions, cause about 420,000 early deaths in the EU each year. Along with the cancer risk, air pollution can cause lung and cardiovascular disease.

The British House of Parliament received information in 2011 on diesel cars producing 21 more times as many PM 10 (large size particulate matter) emissions in grams and more than twice the nitrogen oxides than gasoline per mile traveled. The European Environment Agency said that comparisons are tough to make, given that the newest diesel vehicles have very low emissions of particulate matter, but there are still a lot of the older diesel vehicles on the roads.

McGlade said there are a "whole entourage of effects" linked to air pollution including reduced crop yield, harmful implications for unborn babies and lost working days. An internal meeting of EU Commissioners took place January 9, including a preliminary debate on clean transport.

Diesel-engine vehicles are growing in popularity in the US market, promoted by German automakers and taken more seriously by companies like General Motors. While clean diesel and high-performance diesel engines are becoming more appealing to Americans, air pollution and public health issues from diesel- and gasoline-powered vehicles are being studied in this region, too.

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