Diesel cars to get right of way?

It has been the subject of discussion for years without ever happening, but the government appears set to lift the ban on diesel-powered cars from the centers of Athens and Thessaloniki. The move, however, has drawn criticism from environmental groups.

The change in the law that bans private vehicles, apart from taxis, that use diesel from entering downtown areas was included in an amendment submitted to Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.

It proposes that all diesel cars that use Euro 5 technology be allowed into the city centers. European Union regulations limit carbon monoxide emissions to 500 mg/km, particulates to 5 mg/km, nitrogen oxides to 180 mg/km and combined emissions of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides to 230 mg/km.

Environment Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou unexpectedly submitted the amendment to Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, when the focus of most people was on Prime Minister George Papandreou?s imminent resignation and the expected announcement of the next prime minister.

However, the ministry defended its plans to lift the restrictions on diesel-powered cars. ?The ministry?s decision was based on extensive studies and was taken after consultation with the relevant parliamentary committee,? the ministry said. ?It has the interest of the public and the protection of the environment at heart.?

The ministry wants to incorporate the lifting of the diesel ban with its intention to create a ?green ring? in Athens to replace the current restrictions that mean cars which have a license plate ending with an odd number can only enter the city center on an odd day and vice versa. Instead, the restriction will be based on carbon emissions.

Only cars that issue emissions below 140 g/km will be allowed into the city center. Any vehicles purchased before 1990 will only be allowed to enter during off-peak hours.

The environmental group WWF Hellas slammed the government for removing the diesel ban at the same time that an EU study showed that diesel-powered cars had contributed to increases in nitrogen dioxide emissions. WWF said the restriction should have been made stricter.