BERLIN (Bloomberg) -- German towns and cities plagued by car and truck pollution will soon get the legal tools they need to ban older diesel vehicles from streets where emissions are highest.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's government will remove the legal uncertainty that has made town mayors and councils hesitate to ban older diesels from their streets, said Deputy Environment Minister Jochen Flasbarth, adding that the ordinance will be enacted this year.
Limits on nitrogen oxide, or NOx, emissions set by the European Union are regularly breached on German roads.
"This step is necessary as a stop gap until electric cars have a significant foothold in our towns, and diesel emissions really are what carmakers say they are: cleaner," Flasbarth said in Berlin on Thursday.
Once enacted, bans can be implemented on diesel vehicles with emissions that don't meet "EU-Norm 6," said Flasbarth, who sought agreement on the move in talks in the capital with state environment officials. The officials "unanimously supported" the need for action, he said.
EU-Norm 6 sets a NOx emission limit of 80 grams per kilometer, and has been mandatory for all new diesel vehicles road-registered since 2015.
Calls to get tough on the dirtiest diesel vehicles have become louder and more persistent since Volkswagen Group was caught manipulating its NOx readings from its cars.
While all new diesel cars need to fulfill the strictest NOx limits, that leaves millions of car owners facing bans within cities -- and a new question mark on the future of diesel technology that German companies dominate.
"'It would be a fundamental mistake to badmouth diesels," the German car industry association said in an email to Bloomberg on Friday. "Whoever supports climate protection can't forgo diesels -- environment ministers know this too."
Almost half of the 3 million new vehicles sold each year in Germany are diesels, according to the VDA industry association. In the U.S., VW, BMW Group, Audi and Daimler had 92 percent of the market for new diesel cars, according the International Council on Clean Transportation.
The fine particles emitted by diesel exhausts as well as NOx may cause 10,000 deaths in Germany each year, the European Environment Agency said.
Some 74 percent of BMW's sales are diesels, and for Audi the figure is 67 percent. Just a third of Germany's existing diesel cars fleet in 2015 fulfilled the EU-Norm 6 standard. Half the 14 million diesel cars in Germany will be replaced by new, cleaner diesels in the next five years, according to VDA estimates.
Town and city councils will not be compelled to enforce bans and won't be permitted to place blanket restrictions on inner-city limits for vehicles not fulfilling the latest NOx standards, said Flasbarth. "Cars that do will get a blue sticker, that much is certain," he said.