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Ministers divided on diesel future

Air pollution alerts issued as France’s No1 fuel is blamed for 40,000 exhaust pollution deaths a year

MINISTERS are divided on the future of diesel as the No1 fuel powering France’s automobile market – because it is blamed for 40,000 deaths a year through exhaust pollution.

Today the Ile-de-France air monitoring network Airparif warned that pollution levels for diesel pollutants – fine particulates – had reached danger levels. It warned people with breathing problems to avoid taking part in intense sports activities and to make sure they take any needed medicines.

The same alert was being issued in many parts of France, affecting areas including Aquitaine, Bouches-du-Rhône, Calvados, Clermont-Ferrand, Haute-Garonne, Rhône-Alpes and Strasbourg. The cold weather is blamed along with the lack of strong wind.

The debate on diesel came after state audit body the Cour des Comptes highlighted the anomaly of the different tax treatment of diesel and petrol vehicles – with diesel taxed at €0.42/litre against €0.6/litre for petrol.

Diesel makes up 80% of transport fuel usage and the auditors’ suggestion that it is taxed the same as petrol would prove extremely costly for motorists who would lose out by paying more at the pumps but also see the secondhand value of vehicles plummet.

Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg said he would prefer initiatives to persuade drivers to change their old diesel vehicles for newer, cleaner versions – but was wary of mentioning the old prime à la casse scrappage scheme.

It cost the previous government more than a billion euros with foreign car manufacturers reaping the benefit in new sales. He said French manufacturers were “world leaders” in diesel engines and he did not want any new scheme simply boosting foreign factories.

Ecologist Cécile Duflot, the Housing Minister, said there was a real need to move on the issue as the “fine particulates” released in diesel exhausts were blamed for 40,000 deaths a year. It was time, she said, to “move away from this anachronism”.

But she and Ecology Minister Delphine Batho agreed the problem could not be resolved simply by raising taxes. Batho said that an “incremental increase” would be the way to move ahead as it was a “public health issue and not just tax”.

The Prime Minister’s office said that it was looking at different options, with matching the diesel and petrol tax just a “working theory”. In any case, nothing would happen before the 2014 finance law was introduced.

Didier Bolleckert, president of the Automobile Club, said that both increasing taxes and offering aid to refinance a new vehicle would cause secondhand values to fall. He said that out of 30 million vehicles in use about 70% were diesel-powered “so that is more than 20 million vehicles that will lose resale value”.

Related articles:
Town centres shut for polluting cars
Diesel fumes cause cancer
Photo: Dmytro Panchenko -

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