US environmental groups and aviation sector lobby EPA and FAA over aircraft emissions endangerment
Wed 11 Feb 2015 – With the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to issue in May a proposed determination of whether carbon pollution from aircraft endangers public health or welfare, representatives from the US aviation sector and environmental groups have spelt out their different positions in open letters to the agency and the FAA. The EPA’s decision to address aviation emissions came last September after environmental organisations waged a four-year legal battle to force the agency to act. Six groups are now urging the Administration to move quickly to set emission standards and call on agency officials to simultaneously start analysing how to make airplanes less polluting, otherwise regulations could be delayed for years, they claim. US industry associations say in their joint letter that aviation requires a global rather than national approach to the standards issue.
The six environmental groups – the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, the National Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club – are demanding quick action on introducing strong standards that reduce aircraft emissions. They urge the EPA to act under the Clean Air Act “with the goal of proposing final standards no later than the end of 2015.”
Commenting on the letter, Vera Pardee of the Center’s Climate Law Institute, said: “The Obama administration needs to finally hold the airline industry accountable for its massive greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA has delayed action for years, and our climate is paying the price. It’s time for federal officials to give this rapidly growing source of planet-warming pollution the attention it deserves.”
In their letter to the EPA and FAA, five industry associations representing airlines, aircraft manufacturers and business aviation maintain that as aviation is global in nature, with aircraft operators operating internationally and manufacturers selling their aircraft in international markets, emission standards should be agreed at an international level through ICAO.
The UN agency, through its Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP), is currently working on a CO2 emissions standard for new aircraft though it is not expected to be approved until 2016.
“As the letter notes, the US government is planning to take steps under the Clean Air Act so it will be able to adopt the expected ICAO aircraft CO2 standard into US law once it is finalised,” Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for Airlines for America, told GreenAir. “As the US contemplates these steps, the US aviation associations wanted to be sure the government was focused on the facts and the role the future standard could play under the global sectoral approach.”
The letter’s signatories say the US aviation sector took the role of controlling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions “very seriously”, and added: “As a result of our efforts, US airlines have improved their fuel efficiency 120% since 1978 and together with other aircraft operators account for only 2% of the nation’s GHG inventory, while driving 5% of the nation’s GDP.”
By contrast, the environmental groups contest in their letter that aircraft are one of the fastest-growing carbon emissions sources and point to a recent report by the International Council on Clean Transportation that found despite the airline industry’s claim that fuel costs already force them to operate as efficiently as possible, there was a 27% gap between the most and least fuel-efficient airlines serving the US domestic market.
“Airplanes are critical to today’s global economy, and in order to combat climate disruption we need robust performance regulations for the sector,” said Friends of the Earth policy analyst John Kaltenstein. “The EPA and FAA must hold all modes of transportation, including the aviation industry, to the highest pollution standards so that we may curb these substantial emissions.”