Pollution prop. in Parliament

The Liberals (V) suggest granting municipalities emissions-lowering powers as European authorities get tough

Michael Sandelson
The Foreigner

One of the measures considered is banning diesel-driven cars from the centers of larger cities on winter days with high pollution levels, creating low emissions zones. The motion will give municipalities increased powers, as well as allow parliamentarians and officials to cooperate on reducing pollution, according to Committee leader and proposer for the Liberals, Ola Elvestuen.

However, the decision to implement these ultimately rests with the municipalities. “Should municipalities choose to adopt low emission zones and ban diesel vehicles on the most polluted days of the year, it may contribute to enabling children, people with asthma, with respiratory diseases or others who suffer from [the effects of] excessive air pollution to be outside throughout the year, as well as on days with a significantly higher risk of high air pollution,” Elvestuen says.

Liberal politicians’ proposal has the support of Rightist bipartite coalition party the Conservatives (H). Labor (Ap), the largest Party in parliament, also supports the motion, having done a policy volte face on low emissions zones.

This is not the first time Labor has done a U-turn on transport and environmental issues, however. The Leftist government also reversed tax breaks on biodiesel while in power. A parliamentary debate, Prime Ministerial scaremongering, then a vote in favor of taxes ensued. Then Labor (Ap) Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s popularity plummeted, he denied arrogance, and 2010 saw a rematch on the biodiesel matter.

The government presented its climate white paper in 2012, following its 2011 National Budget presentation. Politicians warned they would take measures to cut Norway’s emissions and make it a low emissions society by the middle of the 21st century.

The Mongstad Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) facility in western Norway opened in 2012. Full-scale CCS plans came to a full stop the following year after Labor threw the project out of the window.

Last week’s vote comes at a time when Norway faces an appearance in the EFTA Court for breaching set levels of health hazardous airborne pollutants in cities.

Concentrations of NO2 (Nitrogen Dioxide), PM10 (Particulate Matter up to 10 micrometers in size) and SO2 (Sulfur Dioxide) in the air are higher than laid down in the EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directive.

The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) had sent Norway a letter of formal notice, and has now referred the matter to the Court in Luxembourg.

Nils Sødal, press spokesperson at motorists’ interest organization NAF, tells The Foreigner the pollution-reducing proposal’s solutions are “short-term.”

“Other measures are needed to solve the cities’ bad air quality, such as improved fuels and public transport. The quality of synthetic diesel, or so-termed GTL (gas-to-liquid) fuel, is also getting better.”

According to him, park-and-ride schemes are another option. “You can construct these incentive parking schemes near all the major main roads that take traffic into the cities. Signs showing the length of journey using this method versus that of sitting in your car can be erected too,” says Sødal.

Moreover, Oslo and Stavanger, two of Norway’s five major cities, are the fastest-growing ones in Europe, he explains.

“While things are improving price and tax-wise regarding low-emission vehicles, we need new solutions, long-term ones. More cycle paths should be built, and there should be more focus on electric and plug-in hybrid cars.”

Sødal thinks that NAF’s suggestions about pollution have been falling on cloth ears, though. “The pollution debate comes to the fore every now-and-then, but no long-term results arise from the discussions. And nobody wants to sit in traffic,” he concludes.

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit theforeigner.no.

It also appeared in the Feb. 13, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.