green and sustainable business

EPA takes big step to regulate aircraft GHGs

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Pulpolux_20secondsThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intends to issue a scientific finding that greenhouse gases from aircraft pose a risk to human health, paving the way for regulating emissions from the U.S. aviation industry.

Touching off what is likely to be a long and contentious regulatory process, the EPA on Wednesday said it is “proposing to find under the Clean Air Act that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from commercial aircraft contribute to the pollution that causes climate change endangering the health and welfare of Americans.”

At the same time, the agency released information about the international process underway by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for developing carbon dioxide (CO2) standards for aircraft and EPA’s participation in that process. EPA is seeking public input to inform future steps by the agency.

For the past five years, ICAO — a specialized body of the United Nations with 191 member states — has been working with the aviation industry and other stakeholders to develop coordinated, international CO2 emissions standards for aircraft. EPA and the Federal Aviation Administration, representing the United States, are participating in ICAO’s process to ensure that any standards achieve meaningful CO2 emissions reductions through policies that are equitable across national boundaries.

The ICAO standards are expected to be adopted in early 2016. “The items issued today by EPA lay the necessary foundation for the development and implementation of a domestic aircraft standard, in accordance with U.S. law and the ICAO process,” EPA said.

The agency said: “U.S. aircraft emit roughly 11 percent of GHG emissions from the U.S. transportation sector and 29 percent of GHG emissions from all aircraft globally. In 2009, EPA determined that GHG pollution from cars and light trucks threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long-lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of negative effects. Since then, the body of science on human-induced climate change has strengthened, supporting today’s proposed finding — under a different section of the Clean Air Act — that GHGs emitted from aircraft engines contribute to pollution that causes climate change endangering public health and welfare. Today’s action supports the goals of the President’s Climate Action Plan to reduce emissions from large sources of carbon pollution.”

The 10 June action does not apply to small piston-engine planes (the type of plane often used for recreational purposes), or to military aircraft.

Publication of the proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register opens a 60-day public comment period. Any future domestic actions toward aircraft engine standards would also be open to public comment and review before they could take effect. The first public hearing is scheduled for August 11 in Washington, D.C.

Reuters reported the airline industry favors a global standard over individual national standards because carriers operate worldwide and want to avoid a patchwork of rules and measures, such as taxes, charges and emissions trading programs.

“If you’re a big airline and you’re flying to 100 countries a day, then complying with all those different regimes is an administrative nightmare,” said Paul Steele, senior vice president at the International Air Transport Association, quoted in the Reuters article.

This is a story that’s been around for awhile, and some environmental groups are concerned that the standard being discussed at ICAO will do little to change the status quo.

Earthjustice petitioned EPA to regulate climate pollution from aviation in 2007, and it represented a coalition of environmental groups in a subsequent suit to compel EPA to do so. As a result of that suit, the court held that EPA has a mandatory duty under the Clean Air Act to determine whether carbon pollution from aircraft endangers public health and welfare,  said Sarah Burt, an  Earthjustice attorney,

“We commend EPA for completing this important first step in regulating carbon pollution from airplanes, but unfortunately, given the magnitude of aircraft’s contribution to climate change, the tentative approach that EPA is considering is not up to the task,” she said. “The EPA’s Endangerment Finding confirms that aircraft are a significant source of climate pollution, emitting approximately 700 million metric tonnes per year. This makes global aviation, if it were equivalent to a country, the 7th largest global emitter, just below Germany and more than Korea and Canada.”

Instead of using its Clean Air Act authority to reduce these harmful emissions, she continued, EPA is proposing to follow the lead of ICAO and “set a ‘business-as-usual’ standard that will lock in emissions increases for decades to come. We strongly urge EPA to reconsider and to fulfill its Clean Air Act obligations by proposing a rule that accomplishes meaningful reductions in pollution from aircraft.”

She explained the ICAO standards “won’t deliver substantial reductions because they are setting a standard that 90–95% of aircraft already meet. It won’t apply it to existing aircraft, which have 20–30 year lifespan—only to new designs, which would push back the phase-in even more. The U.S. share of the problem is considerable, and a more robust U.S. action could help ratchet up the international standard.”

Get ready for a bumpy ride.

Image: 20 seconds before landing by Pulpolux !!! via Flicr CC


Written by William DiBenedetto

10 June, 2015 at 11:27 am

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