Continued EPA delay over taking action on greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft engines angers US environmental groups
Fri 22 June 2012 – A longstanding fight between a coalition of four US environmental groups and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) looks set to continue after the EPA ruled out any short-term decision on whether greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft engines endanger public health or welfare. The EPA also said last week that it is not prepared for the time being to initiate any rulemaking action to establish greenhouse gas emissions standards for aircraft engines, as demanded by the coalition. A petition that the EPA regulate on US aviation emissions was first filed by the coalition back in December 2007 and the issue has rumbled on amid legal jousting between the two sides. The latest rejection by the EPA, which has similarly ruled against taking action on emissions from shipping and non-road engines, has angered the four groups, which accuse the agency of disregarding its duty to regulate major sources of global warming emissions.
In 2009 EPA found that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cars did cause harm to human health but the agency has yet to take action on other non-road transport sectors.
“Now is the time for EPA to turn to these sources of pollution,” said Sarah Burt of EarthJustice, representing the coalition, which also includes Oceana, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity. “EPA has a clear moral obligation and legal duty under the Clean Air Act to act decisively to protect public health and the environment on which all Americans depend.”
Aircraft emit around 11% of CO2 emissions from US transportation sources and 3% of the United States’ total GHG emissions. The coalition says the US is responsible for nearly half of worldwide CO2 emissions from aircraft, which are expected to grow substantially in the coming decades due to the projected growth in air transport, and quotes FAA statistics that show domestic US emissions will increase 60% by 2025.
“While some countries, such as the European Union, have already begun to respond to these challenges, the United States has failed to address this enormous pollution source,” said a coalition statement.
In its written response to the coalition last week, EPA said that since the 2009 endangerment finding it had used its limited resources to concentrate on reducing GHG emissions from cars and light trucks, which represented 73% of all US mobile source emissions in 2010, as this “generates the greatest environmental return for its investment of agency time and resources.”
EPA said the development of an appropriate proposal regarding standards regulating GHGs from aircraft engines would be a very complex undertaking. It added that it was already participating with the Federal Aviation Administration in efforts to develop a CO2 emission standard by ICAO’s Committee on Aviation and Environmental Protection (CAEP), which would have significant potential future implications. EPA, it added, would be informed by much of the knowledge and experience gained in the ICAO/CAEP process and consider any ICAO standards that might result.
However, it cautioned, it was difficult to specify how long the development of a proposal for GHG standards would take to complete. It would not, therefore, “initiate any rulemaking action at this time to establish standards concerning greenhouse gases from aircraft engines. Such action would be premature at this point, given the lack of an affirmative endangerment or contribution finding for such emissions, the ongoing technical work EPA is currently engaged in on the subject, and EPA’s current direction of its resources to regulatory action on the largest emitters of greenhouse gases.”
The coalition is challenging EPA over section 231 of the Clean Air Act (CAA) which states EPA shall “from time to time, issue proposed emissions standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class or classes of aircraft engines which in the [EPA Administrator’s] judgement causes, or contributes to, air pollution which may be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”
Having failed to get a satisfactory response from EPA to its 2007 petition, the coalition filed a suit in June 2010 against the agency claiming unreasonable delay in answering the petition and the agency’s failure to determine endangerment. A court in July 2011 ruled that EPA had not unduly delayed in not making an endangerment finding but section 231 did require it to do so.
EPA now says it intends to initiate proceedings on aircraft GHG emissions once a separate case over GHG endangerment has been heard in the US Court of Appeals. “The court’s decision in that case is likely to provide the agency with useful input and guidance as it moves forward with its GHG regulatory efforts ... and is likely to narrow and focus the issues of concern that will be brought forth in the public comments for an aircraft endangerment finding,” it said.
However, EPA anticipates that a determination regarding aircraft engine emissions would generate extensive public comments and estimates it could take up to two years or longer to develop and complete the process. It is therefore premature, argues the EPA, to address potential pathways or options for GHG emission standards or any related requirements with regard to aviation.
“EPA intends to make the endangerment and cause and contribute findings ... prior to engaging in any standards-setting rulemakings,” it said. “If such endangerment and contribution finding are made, EPA would then commence the rulemaking process and in that setting consider all approaches to reducing GHGs from aircraft available and within its statutory authority.”
The environmental groups are nonetheless unimpressed with EPA’s response. “The evidence of climate change is becoming clearer each and every day,” said Marcie Keever, Regional Program Director for Friends of the Earth. “We can no longer afford EPA’s refusal to address important and growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions.”