German cities can ban older diesel cars immediately

Hamburg will start enforcing new rules by the end of the month

BERLIN - German cities are entitled to ban older diesel vehicles from streets with immediate effect to bring air pollution levels in line with European Union rules, Germany's top administrative court confirmed on Friday.

Germany opened the door to diesel bans in February when it allowed environmental groups to sue cities which fail to enforce Europe's clean air rules, despite fierce lobbying to oppose bans from carmakers.

In a 30-page statement on the ruling which was published on Friday, Germany's administrative court in Leipzig said there should be no grace periods for driving bans.

"Such restrictions, in their intensity, do not go beyond other passage and stopping bans as justified by road law requirements, which motorists always have to reckon with and which they principally have to accept," the court said.

European carmakers have invested heavily in diesel engines, which produce less of the carbon that causes global warming than gasoline, but more of other pollutants blamed for causing disease. Germany's move to allow cities to ban diesel engines from streets could have wide implications for the future of the industry.

Immediate driving bans on major roads or road sections would be legitimate and could affect all models excluding those meeting the latest Euro-6 emissions standards, the ruling statement said. Euro-6 was phased in 2014.

For wider city areas encompassing a multitude of main roads and side streets, the court recommended a phased implementation of bans, starting with older cars that meet Euro-4 emissions standards. The Euro-4 standard was replaced by Euro-5 beginning in 2009.

The Leipzig court had said in February that Euro-5 vehicles should not be banned until Sept. 1, 2019. Tradesmen and some residents too should be exempted, it said at the time.

The ruling is the latest regulatory action to come in the wake of Volkswagen's diesel emissions test-cheating scandal in 2015, and was prompted by legal action from Germany's DUH environmental lobby.

"The courts have been waiting for the ruling statement received today," said Remo Klinger, a lawyer representing DUH which is pushing suits in 28 German cities including Munich and Frankfurt.

"We believe that in many cases, it will swiftly come to oral hearings and rulings."

Germany's second most populous city Hamburg on Wednesday said it had started putting up signs to enforce driving bans of older diesel cars, with local authorities expecting restrictions to start taking effect at the end of this month.

(Reporting by Andreas Cremer)

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