Mon 25 July 2016 – The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a final finding that confirms greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from aircraft are a significant contributor to air pollution and climate change. Although the EPA does not propose what action should be taken in its endangerment finding, the move paves the way for mandatory GHG standards for US aircraft, the only transportation sector not yet subject to such national regulation. The government agency said it was concerned with FAA projections that GHG emissions from aircraft are likely to increase by 43% between 2010 and 2036, while light vehicle and rail emissions are forecast to fall. Following a long legal campaign to force the EPA to act on aircraft emissions, environmental groups welcomed the move and called on it to enforce stronger standards than those proposed by ICAO’s environmental technical committee CAEP in February.
The EPA said US aircraft emit 12% of emissions from the US transportation sector and 29% of emissions from all aircraft globally. In its ruling, the EPA finds the six GHGs from commercial aviation are dangerous to human health and welfare and will now undertake a separate notice and public comment rulemaking process to propose and issue emission standards applicable to the particular GHGs from the classes of aircraft engines covered by the finding. The ruling applies to jet and larger turboprop aircraft covered under ICAO’s international aircraft CO2 standard. Once the EPA issues an aircraft GHG standard, it will be up to the FAA to prescribe regulations to ensure compliance.
The EPA and FAA were closely involved the ICAO CAEP decision-making process setting the international CO2 standard, which is expected to be approved by ICAO Member States at its Assembly starting late September and formally adopted in March 2017. The CO2 standard would apply to both new aircraft type designs as of 2020 and new deliveries of current in-production types from 2023, with a cut-off date of 2028 for production of aircraft that do not comply with the standard.
However, the recommended standard has come in for sharp criticism from environmental groups which say it is not stringent enough.
“This endangerment finding is key because it obligates the EPA to take regulatory action to cut CO2 emissions from aircraft – it triggers a legal mandate,” said Drew Kodjak, Executive Director of the International Council on Clean Transportation. “Our analysis clearly shows that the standard proposed by ICAO won’t offer meaningful reductions. This opens a real possibility to get a better standard.”
Annie Petsonk, International Counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, said: “US aircraft have emitted the lion’s share of global warming pollution worldwide. We should shoulder the lion’s share of the pollution-cutting responsibilities as well. EPA’s endangerment finding today sets the stage for the US to step up to those responsibilities and lead the world on cleaner air travel, with a standard more stringent than the one adopted by ICAO.”
WWF Deputy Director for international climate policy, Brad Schallert, added his own call for more stringency and a tougher stance by the EPA: “Merely matching those guidelines is insufficient. If the EPA is to fulfil its obligations under this finding to protect public health and welfare, then it must go further.”
Schallert said the US Administration needed to build on the EPA announcement and redouble efforts in negotiating a successful outcome on a global market-based measure before the ICAO Assembly. “We can’t afford a repeat of the weak CO2 standard,” he said.
Added Petsonk: “As important as it is, a greenhouse gas efficiency standard for airplanes is only one piece of the cleaner skies puzzle. Given the enormous growth slated for this industry, we need both more efficient engines and an agreement to cap the total climate pollution from international civil aviation worldwide. At its Assembly, ICAO will vote on a proposal to do just that, using an innovative market-based mechanism to ensure that airlines achieve net carbon neutral growth from 2020. Securing a robust agreement in ICAO will be a key part of President Obama’s legacy on climate change.”
The finding comes after a number of legal challenges the EPA has faced from environmental groups since 2007, which warn they will take further action if the Agency does not come up with tough regulations. “EPA officials finally acknowledged airplane pollution’s obvious climate threat, but they’re still not actually cutting the airline industry’s skyrocketing emissions,” said Sarah Burt, Staff Attorney at Earthjustice. “We will continue to use the power of law to compel EPA to put in place standards that actually reduce harmful pollution from aircraft.”
Vera Pardee, Senior Counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “After nearly a decade of denial and delay, we need fast, effective EPA action. The Obama administration must quickly devise ambitious aircraft pollution rules that dramatically reduce this high-flying hazard to our climate.”
Brussels-based campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E) said the EPA finding should be used as an opportunity for bilateral action between the EU and the United States on reducing the growing climate impact from aviation. It said both markets account for over half of global aviation emissions, with aircraft manufactured by the two major US and EU players, Boeing and Airbus, responsible for over 90% of global aviation CO2.
“We now have the real possibility of the EU and the US cooperating to fix the deeply-flawed UN aviation efficiency standard. The European transport commissioner, Violeta Bulc, should grab this opportunity with both hands.”
Updated July 27:
In a reaction from industry, Nancy Young, VP Environmental Affairs at Airlines for America (A4A), told the New York Times: “We’re already at the edge of feasibility. You cannot adopt a standard that you don’t know you can meet for an aircraft. Safety is job No. 1 in aviation. And if you say maybe we can push technology to meet this, that’s a worry.”
She said a separate US standard could hurt American companies like Boeing and General Electric as those such as Airbus in France and Mitsubishi in Japan would not have to meet the standard.
EPA Regulatory Announcement on aircraft GHG emissions
EPA – Final endangerment finding (pdf)
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