Wed 5 Dec 2007 – A coalition of environmental groups, states and regional governments have filed petitions to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging it to address the effects of global warming pollution from the world’s aircraft fleet. The petitions are the first step in a process that requires the EPA to evaluate the current impacts of aircraft emissions, seek public comment and then develop rules to reduce emissions or explain why it will not act.
Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm based in California, filed the environmental group’s petition on behalf of Friends of the Earth, Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity. Also filing petitions are the States of California, Connecticut, New Jersey and New Mexico and the District of Columbia through their Attorneys General; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through its Department of Environmental Protection; the City of New York through its Corporation Counsel; and the South Coast Air Quality Management District through its District Counsel.
The Earthjustice petition cites that aircraft currently account for 12% of CO2 emissions from US transportation sources and 3% of the total US CO2 emissions, with the US responsible for nearly half of worldwide CO2 emissions from aircraft. Due to the projected growth in air transport, the US Federal Aviation Administration estimates greenhouse gas emissions from US domestic aircraft are expected to increase 60% by 2025 and to triple globally by 2050. While some countries have already begun to respond to these challenges, says Earthjustice, the United States has failed to address this enormous source of emissions.
“With the April 2007 decision by the US Supreme Court, the EPA now has a mandate to regulate greenhouse gas emissions,” said Alice Thomas, the Earthjustice attorney filing the petition. “Today, we are asking the EPA to begin the process of reducing the global warming impact from one of the world’s fastest growing sectors.”
The petition asks the EPA to respond within 180 days and initiate a formal process to limit and reduce emissions from all US certified aircraft and all foreign aircraft arriving in or departing from US airports, which it could do by:
· Adopting operational measures to minimize fuel use and reduce emissions from aircraft;
· Requiring the use of lighter, more aerodynamic, and more energy efficient airplanes, as well as the development of even more efficient designs; and
· Adopting regulatory measures to create incentives for the use of cleaner jet fuels.
Whilst acknowledging the significant design, operational and technology improvements made by the aviation industry, the petition says that voluntary measures alone will not be sufficient to bring about the changes that are needed to address the sectors’ impact on the climate. Section 231 of the Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA to set “technology-forcing” standards for aircraft engines as long as the standards give manufacturers sufficient lead time, says the petition. “It is thus imperative that the agency sets standards to force the adoption and use of these existing measures, and also to encourage development of improved technologies and procedures that will reduce emissions even further.”
The petition says that the EPA’s authority to address this issue is consistent with both US and international law. “First, the Clean Air Act gives EPA unambiguous authority to regulate air pollutants from both US-certified aircraft and foreign aircraft. In addition, establishing greenhouse gas emission standards for foreign aircraft operating within US airspace is consistent not only with general principles of international law but also the United States’ obligations under both the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Chicago Convention.” The petition points to the recent vote in the European Parliament to include aviation in the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme as having endorsed this approach.
“Halting and reversing global warming will require innovation across every sector of the global economy, including aviation,” said Danielle Fugere of Friends of the Earth. “Regulating greenhouse gas pollution within, to and from the US will speed international efforts to slow global warming.”
California’s Attorney General, Jerry Brown told Associated Press: “We want the EPA to take their head out of the sand and actively promulgate rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA has taken a very passive and unimaginative approach to combatting global warming.”
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