This morning, EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella announced that the United Kingdom alongside other member states including France and Germany, are to be referred to the EU Court of Justice for failure to meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution since 2010 (see airqualitynews.com story).
The commission had given the six countries - which also includes Italy, Hungary and Romania - a last chance in January to take long-sought steps to improve air quality or be hauled before the European Court of Justice.
He said: "The news that the European Commission will be taking the UK Government to court for risky levels of air pollution should be a wake-up call".
Greenpeace Germany traffic expert Tobias Austrup, in response to Merkel's statement, warned that "the German government is giving the auto companies ineffective measures" to fight air pollution.
"But it can not be in our interest to weaken the automobile sector to such an extent that it no longer has the strength to invest in its own future". "It's high time to intensify efforts and end exceedances (of pollution levels)".
"Indeed this announcement from the European Commission is an extremely powerful reminder of just how much we'd miss the EU enforcement powers when it comes to environmental protection if Brexit happens. [Environment secretary] Michael Gove should swiftly come up with a clear plan to tackle the diesel vehicles responsible for most roadside toxic pollution and an outright ban on the sale of petrol, diesel cars and vans from 2030".
U.S. imposes fresh sanctions on Hezbollah leaders
The US Treasury Department said four other individuals were also sanctioned, as was the group ISIS in the Greater Sahara. Washington said it was sanctioning five members of the Shiite militia's Shura council - its top decision making forum.
Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas welcomed the Commission action. But Vella also admitted that "legal action alone will not solve the problem".
"Post-Brexit, this is exactly the kind of scrutiny and oversight the Tories plan to escape". The government, however, has repeatedly refused to force the auto industry to undertake-and pay for-costly exhaust refits.
It is one of six countries being referred for air quality infringements. "That is why we are outlining the type of practical help that the Commission can provide to national authorities in their efforts to promote cleaner air for European cities and towns", said Vella.
As the announcement was being made, lawyers for Paris, Madrid and Brussels were in front of the European Court of Justice asking that the three cities be allowed to challenge vehicle emissions regulations set by the European Commissions and agreed by national governments.
Germany's automakers, in particular the Volkswagen Group, which sold millions of emissions-rigged diesels, have been dragging their feet over retrofitting the affected cars to make them cleaner.