US EPA proposes regulation of aircraft CO2 emissions to align with ICAO's international standard
Fri 24 July 2020 – The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a CO2 emissions standard for commercial airplanes and large business aircraft that aligns with the CO2 standard agreed by ICAO in 2017. The proposed standard would apply to new type design airplanes on or after 1 January 2020 and to in-production airplanes on or after 1 January 2028, but not to those already manufactured and currently in use. Typically, three out of four aircraft manufactured in the United States are sold overseas but if EPA were to adopt no standard, or not as stringent as ICAO’s, US aircraft manufacturers could be forced to seek CO2 emissions certification from another country’s authority in order to market their airplanes for international operation. The proposal was welcomed by industry group Airlines for America (A4A), which said adopting the standard would help US airlines meet the sector’s carbon goals but environmental groups said the standard was too weak to drive the fuel efficiency improvements required.
“This standard is the first time the US has ever proposed regulating greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft,” announced EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, adding the Trump Administration had been the first to propose regulating GHG emissions from aircraft.
There will now be a 60-day public comment period on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Once the final rule with the standard has been promulgated by EPA, the FAA will complete a subsequent rulemaking to enforce the standard and at that point could begin to certify airplanes of US manufacturers. “This process will take some time, and it is critical that EPA completes this part of the process so that the US standards are in place well in advance of 2028, when the ICAO standards go into effect for in-production airplanes,” said EPA.
In-production airplanes are defined as new aircraft with designs that have already been type certificated by the FAA and are already in production, and which will continue to be produced and sold after the effective date of the standards. New type design airplanes are newly developed designs that have not previously been type certificated by the FAA and are not yet being built or flown.
After a lengthy legal battle with environmental groups to act on aircraft emissions, in 2016 EPA found that under the Clean Air Act, concentrations of six GHGs in the atmosphere endangered public health and welfare. It also determined that two of those GHGs, CO2 and nitrous oxide (N2O), emitted from certain classes of engines used in certain aircraft, contributed to that endangering air pollution. In the proposed rulemaking, EPA is using section 231 of the Act to adopt equivalent airplane GHG emission standards domestically, which will cover the same types of airplanes covered by the international aircraft CO2 standard.
The international standard was agreed by the ICAO Council in 2016 and endorsed by ICAO Member States in early 2017.
“EPA’s proposal to adopt ICAO’s fuel efficiency and CO2 certification standard for newly manufactured aircraft is good for our industry, for our country and for the world,” commented A4A VP Environmental Affairs, Nancy Young. “Although the US airlines are already driven to be highly fuel- and carbon-efficient, this stringent new emissions standard will help US airlines make a green industry even greener.”
However, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said the proposal as drafted contravened EPA’s responsibilities under the Clean Air Act and would be objecting during the upcoming comments period.
“Airlines need to put climate change at the centre of their recovery from Covid-19, but EPA’s proposed carbon dioxide emissions standard for aircraft is wholly insufficient to put the aviation industry on a trajectory of declining emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement,” said Annie Petsonk, International Counsel at EDF.
“Congress should move swiftly to set aviation on a science-driven path toward net zero climate impacts, with strong emission reduction targets that address all aircraft pollution. That will do far more to aid the sector economically and protect the climate than EPA’s current proposal.”
According to the US-based International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), EPA’s proposed standard is too weak to accelerate investments in more fuel-efficient aircraft and engines. Its analysis found that aircraft deliveries in 2019 were already on average 6% more fuel-efficient than required by the standard in 2028 and the average new commercial jet delivered in 2016, when the ICAO standard was finalised, already complied with the 2028 requirements. Moreover, it claims, the most advanced new aircraft delivered in recent years are ahead of the standard by 10-20% on average. ICCT is publishing the analysis in a new report in August.
It recommends EPA should apply its CO2 standard to in-service aircraft rather than just new aircraft as this would create new markets for US manufacturers by promoting the retirement of older, less efficient designs. It also suggests EPA should begin work on a second-phase standard with tougher targets that could inform international standard setting in ICAO.
“The United States will need a more ambitious standard if it is to meet its goal of carbon-neutral growth for its carriers starting this year,” said Sola Zheng, lead author of the study.