Edinburgh City Council transport convenor David Begg said he regarded new council powers under the Environment Act 1995 as 'a poisoned chalice'.
'I am very cynical about the DoE giving more powers to local authorities to close roads when pollution goes above a certain level when they are otherwise taking away powers left, right and centre,' he said.
'My suspicion is that they are doing this because they feel that at some point legal action could be taken by members of the public.'
'Legal action is by no means certain, but it's imperative that councils do everything they possibly can to reduce car use,' said Mr Begg. Otherwise they could find themselves required to close entire city centres to cars on days of bad pollution, he said.
Edinburgh has the fastest growth in car ownership in the UK, and has already approved a city centre housing development where no residents are allowed to own cars.
It is increasing investment in public transport measures such as park and ride schemes, and last week decided to establish urban 'greenways' to speed the passage of buses.
Mr Begg said the council was in favour of taxing private non-residential car parking spaces. But this and road- pricing would remain the subject of academic debate unless councils agreed with the Treasury on how the revenues would be treated, he said.