Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

May Hints U.K. Air-Pollution Plan May Not Punish Diesel Drivers

  • U.K. premier says she’s mindful that diesel was encouraged
  • Britain due to produce new air-quality plans this month

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said plans to tackle air pollution will need to be mindful of the fact that previous governments encouraged people to buy diesel vehicles.

Ministers are drawing up new air-quality proposals to be published later this month after the High Court ruled in November that more needed to be done to reduce harmful pollutants blamed by experts for causing tens of thousands of people to die prematurely every year.

Clean-air campaigners want a crackdown on diesel, which emits harmful nitrogen dioxide and particulate pollution when burned, and the Sun newspaper has reported that drivers of diesel vehicles may be charged as much as 20 pounds ($25) a day in 30 cities across the country. But in comments Tuesday, May suggested the government is backing away from punitive action.

“Obviously we will be producing a new air-quality plan; we’ve been required to do that by the courts. Decisions will be taken when we produce that plan,’’ May told reporters during a three-day visit to Jordan and Saudi Arabia. “I’m very conscious of the fact that past governments have encouraged people to buy diesel cars and we need to take that into account when we’re looking at what we do in the future.’’

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Tuesday he plans to impose a new 12.5-pound charge on the most polluting vehicles, on top of an existing congestion charge, starting in April 2019. The fee will bring the total daily charge to 24 pounds for petrol-burning cars that are around 13 years old or more, and diesel cars that are at least four years old.

Britain has been in breach of European Union air-quality regulations since 2010, with diesel shouldering part of the blame. Governments across Europe encouraged the growth of diesel in the first decade of the century because burning the fuel emitted fewer greenhouse gases than petrol because of its greater efficiency.

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