* Commission to publish air quality draft law this year
* Commission working on tougher diesel testing standards
* WHO has linked diesel emissions to cancer
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Jan 8 (Reuters) - The European Union must cut emissions from diesel vehicles as part of its efforts to reduce air pollution, which is causing close to half a million premature deaths per year, EU officials said on Tuesday.
The European Commission says it will publish legislative proposals to improve air quality in the second half of this year.
As well as a law on air quality, it has already put forward tougher vehicle emissions standards and is introducing stricter vehicle testing standards.
The aim is to ensure levels recorded during tests accurately reflect pollution levels during daily use and not just in a controlled environment.
“We will have to address the issue of the diesel car,” Janez Potocnik, EU environment commissioner, told a Brussels conference on Tuesday. “Compliance is crucially dependent on reducing real world emissions from diesel cars.”
The European Union has a particularly high number of diesel vehicles, because tax advantages have in many cases made it cheaper than petrol.
The cancer risk linked to diesel vehicles, however, was underlined last year by a World Health Organization study.
“Diesel vehicles are more efficient, but they emit a higher level of nitrogen dioxide than regular vehicles,” Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of EU body the European Environment Agency, told the conference.
“All subsidies for diesel should be phased out.”
The Commission has estimated that nitrogen dioxide, together with other pollutants such as minute specks referred to as particulate matter, which are generated by smoke as well as traffic, cause roughly 420,000 early deaths in the European Union per year.
Apart from posing a cancer risk, air pollution leads to lung and cardiovascular disease.
Diesel passenger cars produce more than 21 times as many PM10 (larger size particulate matter) emissions in grams and more than twice the nitrogen oxides than gasoline per mile travelled, according to a written answer to the British House of Parliament in late 2011.
The European Environment Agency has said comparisons are complex, given that the newest diesel vehicles have very low emissions of particulate matter, but that the legacy fleet is still a major issue.
McGlade referred to a “whole entourage of effects” linked to air pollution including reduced crop yield, implications for the development of unborn babies and lost working days.
The European Union’s largest industrial facilities, although compliant with existing EU law, cost between 102 billion ($133.6 billion) and 169 billion euros - or 200 to 300 euros per citizen - in 2009 in terms of costs to health and the environment, McGlade said.
Attempting to pre-empt any criticism of the cost of tighter regulation, Potocnik cited heightened air quality concerns in the United States and China and predicted “enormous demand for (sustainable) products and processes”.
“Let’s not kill our industry with kindness,” he said. “Air quality is not only an environmental objective but also an economic opportunity.”
Potocnik said the majority of the 27 EU member states are infringing EU air quality so far.
An internal meeting of the EU Commissioners on Wednesday will hold a preliminary debate on clean transport.