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Iran: Cabinet Abandons Directive on Scrapping Old Cars to Reduce Air Pollution

(Dec. 5, 2017) Pressure from Iran’s automakers and the country’s Ministry of Industry, Mines and Trade has led to the cancellation by the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) of a recently adopted directive aimed at combating the high levels of air pollution in Iran’s big cities, 80% of which comes from automotive sources. (Ameer Hossein Askarian, Traffic Police Criticize Government Council’s Cancellation of Decree on Scrapping Cars, MOQAVEMATI NEWS (Oct. 24, 2017) (in Persian); Suspending the Licensing of Gas-Guzzling Cars; Perhaps Some Other Time, ISNA (Oct. 11, 2017) (in Persian).) The directive, which was announced on August 15 and entered into force on September 17, 2017, required local automotive companies to scrap one old, gas-guzzling car for every car they produced whose fuel consumption was over 8.5 liters per 100 kilometers or pay a fine of 25 million rials (about US$625). (Suspending the Licensing of Gas-Guzzling Cars, supra; Laws to Curb Pollution Gone with the Wind, FINANCIAL TRIBUNE (Oct. 26, 2017).)

With the cancellation of the directive, gas-guzzling and polluting cars will continue to be produced in the country without any special restrictions, and the issuing of special license plates for such cars, which had ceased with the publication of the directive, resumed. (Reversal of Auto Emission Rules in the Country, ASR-E KHODRO (Oct. 23, 2017) (in Persian); Laws to Curb Pollution Gone with the Wind, supra.)

Environmental and Financial Effects of the Directive’s Cancellation

While the cancellation of the directive was welcomed by the auto industry, it was sharply denounced by environmentalists and other experts. (Laws to Curb Pollution Gone with the Wind, supra.)  Expressing his dismay, Colonel Sa‘eed Rouhi, the technical and engineering deputy of Iran’s traffic police, stated that “cancelling the decree on scrapping old cars alongside of producing cars with high fuel consumption is a mistake” because “removing old cars from the transportation system is the principal approach for reducing air pollution in the big cities.”  (Traffic Police Criticize Government Council’s Cancellation of Decree on Scrapping Cars, supra; Laws to Curb Pollution Gone with the Wind, supra.)  Rouhi maintained that the directive would have been effective had it been enforced, citing studies indicating that the rate of fuel consumption and, consequently, air pollution could have been reduced by 10%.  (Traffic Police Criticize Government Council’s Cancellation of Decree on Scrapping Cars, supra.)

In addition, the extremely short time between the announcement of the directive and its implementation (about a month) reportedly led to financial losses for citizens who had bought domestic cars with high fuel consumption before the directive was passed but suddenly had to sell them on learning that special licenses for their cars would no longer be issued – only to have the directive cancelled a few weeks after it went into effect. (Suspending the Licensing of Gas-Guzzling Cars, supra.)

Future Government Measures Planned

Iran’s air pollution problem does not stem entirely from the prevalence of old gas guzzlers on its city streets. The engines used in most new cars produced by the two main semi-state-owned companies, Iran Khodro and SAIPA, are “notorious for high emissions, poor mileage, and flaunting safety rules, especially the low-priced sedans,” and would be below standard in countries with strict environmental regulations.  (No Cherry-Picking, All Low-Quality Cars Have to Go, FINANCIAL TRIBUNE (Oct. 22, 2017).) Accordingly, Nayereh Pirouzbakht, head of the Iran National Standards Organization (INSO), has stated that “production lines of all low-quality cars will be halted by 2019” and production permits for any vehicle failing to meet the INSO benchmarks will be revoked.  (Id.)

Environment activists, economic experts, and NGOs, however, have registered “complaints and protestations” about what they claim is the government’s reported failure to implement tougher regulations announced in recent years to improve domestic car quality and get high emission vehicles off the roads and its “inability or unwillingness to use the full force of the law” against Iran Khodro and SAIPA for refusing “to [comply with] minimum environmental standards and curb production of low-quality vehicles.” (Id.)