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German High Court Rules That Cities Can Ban Diesel Vehicles To Reduce Pollution


German cities got the green light today from a German high court to start banning diesel vehicles. It's part of an effort to cut air pollution caused by diesel engines. The move is not necessarily good news for German politicians who fear a backlash from millions of affected car owners and businesses if the ban goes ahead. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Berlin is one of nearly 70 communities in Germany that exceed limits on nitrogen oxides emissions set by the EU to protect people's health. With today's federal administrative court ruling, officials here and in those other cities will have to step up their efforts to curb such pollution so they aren't forced to impose bans on diesel cars on some or all of their streets. Many Germans would prefer to avoid the bans altogether. Stuttgart Mayor Fritz Kuhn, whose city was one of two at the center of the case, is with the environmentally friendly Greens party.


FRITZ KUHN: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He outlined major hurdles to enforcing a ban in his city, including a shortage of police officers. He added that any ban in Stuttgart wouldn't start before September and that the first cars targeted would be ones built before 2006. Hamburg officials, on the other hand, say they plan to impose a ban by the end of April.



NELSON: Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government is widely criticized for its close ties to the German auto industry, says federal officials will step up their work with local governments and fast track plans for reducing emissions. Some of the alternatives they're considering include altering traffic flows to reduce congestion, offering more - and in some cases free - public transit and replacing municipal fleets with electric or other cleaner vehicles. Other German ministers say they hope automakers will increase their efforts to retrofit diesel cars to reduce emissions.


MERKEL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Merkel expressed relief that the ruling didn't affect a majority of German car owners. Diesel car ownership in Germany is down after the 2015 VW emissions cheating scandal. There are about 15 million diesel vehicles registered in Germany. Today's court ruling focuses on cars built before 2010. That still leaves some 12 million German private and commercial diesel owners who could be affected by city-imposed bans. Some diesel owners NPR interviewed expressed frustration over today's ruling, like retired businessman Horst Michael.

HORST MICHAEL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: "Diesel car owners also face a financial hit as the court ruled cities won't have to compensate drivers for being unable to use their vehicles." Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.