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Germany's top administrative court has ruled that it is legal for cities to ban diesel cars. The government opposes the bans, but is under pressure from the EU to do more to combat air pollution.
Germany's Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig ruled on Tuesday that cities may be permitted to put driving bans in place for diesel vehicles.
The ruling does not determine whether the bans will be implemented, but rather that German states, cities and communities have the right to impose them to maintain air pollution limits without needing federal legislation.
Read more: Move is on to ban diesel cars from cities
Environmental Action Germany (DUH), the environmental and consumer watchdog organization that first brought the case, praised the court's decision, calling it a "great day for clean air in Germany."
Tuesday's decision concerned two earlier court rulings in Stuttgart and Dusseldorf, the capital cities of the German states of Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia, where air pollution massively exceeds allowable levels. DUH initially sued both cities, saying they hadn't done enough to combat emissions.
The court in Stuttgart said driving bans were the "most effective" means to improve air quality and safeguard health in urban areas, while the Dusseldorf court found the bans had to be "seriously examined."
Berlin: Bans are 'avoidable'
The German government is hoping to avoid the driving bans, saying that it would be possible to reduce air pollution in urban zones without banning older diesel cars.
"The court has not issued any driving bans but created clarity about the law. Driving bans can be avoided, and my goal is and will remain that they do not come into force," German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said following the court's decision.
Chancellor Angela Merkel noted that the bans, should cities choose to carry them out, wouldn't affect all drivers in Germany, but said the government would discuss with urban regions and municipalities on how to proceed.
"This concerns individual cities where more needs to be done, but it's not really about the entire area of Germany and all car owners," Merkel said.
German drivers anxious over bans
Besides the German government, the country's influential car industry also opposes diesel driving bans.
Millions of German drivers and businesses have also been anxiously awaiting the court's decision, with many concerned about their disrupted driving routes and a possible devaluation of their vehicles.
Read more: Will taxpayers foot the bill for Dieselgate?
Still, facing possible legal action from the European Union over the Germany's air quality, the German government is preparing alternatives. The Transport Ministry could update traffic regulations to include an option for cities to impose diesel bans on certain routes later this year.
rs/aw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)