By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - New European Union emissions rules for vehicles have been put on hold or are being delayed, EU sources and campaigners said, citing pressure from the hard pressed auto industry.
The downgrading of green priorities is another example of policy falling victim to industry arguments against environmental regulation, a trend marked on Monday by concessions to airlines.
A plan published last week to prop up the European auto sector made no mention of carbon regulations for heavy goods vehicles or carbon dioxide labeling to guide consumer choice, which had been flagged previously.
"It looks like they will be dropped again," one EU source said, asking not to be identified.
An October draft seen by Reuters of the autos action plan, intended to make the industry competitive, innovative and sustainable, showed a section on tackling heavy goods vehicles' emissions and carbon dioxide labeling was crossed out.
Labeling on a vehicle's CO2 emissions and a strategy for reducing truck emissions are also missing so far from the European Commission's 2013 published work programme.
The Commission was not immediately available for further comment.
Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard had vowed at the start of her term in office in 2010 to tackle standards she saw as too lax and she pressed ahead with proposals to tighten 2020 vehicle emissions targets published in June.
Other measures have slipped down the agenda.
The 2020 targets were expected to be supplemented this year with a policy document on how to follow them up.
That step is not now expected until the first part of next year, an EU source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The delay has a knock-on effect, by pushing back subsequent debate on more ambitious targets for further in the future, the sources said.
Some sections of industry say regulatory certainty is crucial to business planning. Others have pressed for delay.
Daimler AG said it was too early to set goals beyond 2020 because it was unclear how big a role electric vehicles would play in cutting carbon.
"A revision with a concrete 2025 target should be made not before 2016/2017," Hartmut Baur, senior manager for environment, energy and transport policy at Daimler, previously told Reuters.
In a letter from Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger to Volkswagen AG, dated July, Oettinger said he welcomed the Commission's commitment to "take stock" of emissions values by 2014, without a firm obligation to propose carbon limits for after 2020.
"The discussion about our CO2 policy for cars after 2020 can be held with an open-ended outcome," he wrote in the hand-signed letter, seen by Reuters.
Some environmental campaigners argue more ambitious green goals are crucial to Europe retaining its competitive edge in vehicle innovation, as Asian and U.S. carmakers strive for less polluting fuel-efficient vehicles.
"European carmakers will only be competitive if they deliver on environmental technologies. This isn't going to happen without regulation," Greenpeace EU Transport Policy Director Franziska Achterberg said.
Greg Archer of campaign group Transport & Environment said: "Smart, green regulation has driven innovation in the European automotive industry and contributed to its global leadership ... Delaying and weakening regulations to improve fuel economy puts that competitive advantage at risk."
Yet the economic crisis has forced the European Commission's environmental proposals down the agenda and strengthened the hand of lobbyists opposed to green measures.
The EU said on Monday it would freeze for a year its rule that all airlines must pay for their carbon emissions for flights into and out of EU airports, following threats of international retaliation.
The bloc has sought to lead international efforts to limit climate change with a set of three green goals - to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent, increase the share of renewables in the mix to 20 percent and to improve energy savings by 20 percent.
It has road maps laying out ambitions beyond 2020, but has yet to agree any firm goals for after the end of the decade. (Editing by David Holmes)