EPA Takes First Step Toward Regulating Aircraft Emissions

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Anthony Adragna

July 25 — Environmental advocates will maintain pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency to propose greenhouse gas standards for aircraft after the agency concluded those emissions endanger human health and the environment.

That July 25 finding, issued under Section 231(a) of the Clean Air Act, triggers a requirement for the EPA to set emissions limits for the aircraft, though the agency declined to say when a proposed rule would be issued. It did say future regulatory efforts are anticipated to be at least as strict as those expected to be formally approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization in March 2017.

“EPA has already set effective [greenhouse gas] standards for cars and trucks and any future aircraft engine standards will also provide important climate and public health benefits,” Janet McCabe, the agency's top air official, said in a statement.

The endangerment finding (RIN:2060-AS31), long sought by environmental advocates, concludes carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride from certain aircraft engines contribute to climate change. It does not apply to small piston-engine planes or to military aircraft.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy signed the finding July 25. It goes into effect 30 days after publication.

According to the agency, 89 percent of U.S. aircraft emissions are covered under the EPA's finding. U.S. aircraft generate 3 percent of total domestic greenhouse gas emissions and account for 29 percent of global emissions from the sector.

‘Plenty of Time.'

Environmental advocates thanked the agency for at last having the endangerment finding in place, but told Bloomberg BNA there is plenty of time left in the Obama administration for a proposed rulemaking.

“We ask that EPA issue proposed standards as soon as possible and certainly before the end of this administration,” Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Bloomberg BNA. “I’m not saying the final rules can come out before the end of the Obama administration, but the proposal should not be a problem at all. It could be done in the next two or three months if they want to.”

Ongoing litigation is the best option advocates have to quicken the regulatory process. Both the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth asked a federal district court in April to impose a strict deadline on EPA to take action ( Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. EPA, D.D.C., No. 16-cv-00681, 4/12/16 ).

Pardee said her group would push for a decision in the case “as quickly as possible” after briefing concludes in August.

“I’m hoping and praying and suing to try to make it happen,” she said of trying to get a proposed rule before the end of the Obama administration.

Airlines Commend Action

Airlines for America, which represents major airlines including American Airlines, Southwest, United and FedEx Express, commended the EPA for the endangerment finding but said it was crucial that any future regulatory actions align with international standards.

“As aviation is a global industry, with airlines operating internationally and aircraft manufacturers selling their aircraft in international markets, it is critical that aircraft emissions standards be set at the international level and not imposed unilaterally by one country or set of countries,” Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for the group, told Bloomberg BNA. “Thus, we commend EPA’s action, which will enable the ICAO [carbon dioxide] certification standard for future aircraft to be adopted into U.S. law consistent with the Clean Air Act, U.S. treaty obligations and in harmony with the international community.”

In public comments on the proposed finding, various segments of the airline industry did not oppose the endangerment finding itself but vocally objected to calls for stronger standards than those likely to be approved by ICAO.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

A copy of the final rule is available at http://src.bna.com/g5x.

A copy of the fact sheet from the final rule is available at http://src.bna.com/g5z.

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.