Lawsuit pushes EPA to regulate airplane emissions

Environmental groups want the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes.

Environmental groups want agency to set a timeline for action on airplane greenhouse gas emissions

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The EPA is dragging its feet on controlling greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes, the Environmental Defense Fund said this week, reinforcing arguments made in court by a coalition of groups seeking to establish a timeline for EPA action.

The hearing in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia is part of a 2010 lawsuit that charges the EPA with unreasonablly delaying action. The courts have already ruled that the EPA must act on airline emissions in response to a petition filed in 2007, but the agency doesn’t have a specific timeline it must follow, according EDF attorney Pamela Campos.

Campos, who is not directly involved in the lawsuit, said the EPA’s position is that it wants to wait to act on airline emissions until some other pending court cases are resolved, primarily an industry challenge to the agency’s overall finding that greenhouse gases pose a significant threat to human health and the environment.

In a statement, EDF pointed out that the Obama administration has made significant progress to improve the efficiency of cars and trucks, spurring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and trillions of dollars in consumer savings. The aviation sector has yet to follow suit in cooperating with the administration on such standards.

“A central environmental achievement of the Obama Administration has been increasing the efficiency and greenhouse gas performance of the nation’s automobile fleet,” Campos said. “Today’s hearing is an opportunity for the United States to bring its leadership to the next frontier of transportation – the skies.

“The Obama Administration should take quick and robust action to set efficiency standards for airplanes. Passengers, airports, airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and local communities will all benefit from standards that keep our air clean and boost the competitiveness of our airlines,” Campos said, adding that significant improvements are possible with existing technologies.

Global warming pollution from airplanes is expected to quadruple by 2050 if left unregulated. Aircraft engines produce pollution similar to those from cars and trucks, but because it’s released in the upper parts of the atmosphere as opposed to at ground level, the pollution’s impact on the climate may be much greater.

report from the International Civil Aviation Organization estimates the aviation sector could achieve fuel burn reductions of up to 30 percent by 2020 and 35 percent by 2030 from technology advances alone.

Technologies like those that improve engine performance, increase aerodynamics and reduce weight, are already being employed today in new aircraft to reduce fuel and emissions from the aviation sector. Limiting greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes would further incentivize the transition to such technologies. Airline operational improvements and new traffic control systems such as NextGen, which will be funded through a recently passed bill, can also provide meaningful additional reductions.

The Obama Administration has successfully established standards limiting global warming pollution from cars and trucks.  These standards, finalized jointly in 2010 by U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation, are already in place and save consumers up to $3,000 over the life of a vehicle.

A second phase of standards, for model year 2017-2025 passenger vehicles, will be finalized this year, doubling the fuel economy of today’s vehicles. In 2011, EPA and DOT also established the world’s first greenhouse gas standards for highway trucks and buses, reducing oil consumption by more than 530 million barrels, saving more than $49 billion in net benefits, and cutting carbon dioxide pollution by 270 million metric tons.

“This Administration has forged the path of partnership for establishing fuel efficiency standards in the transportation sector,” Campos said. “Aviation is an important piece in completing that effort.”

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One Response

  1. Opening another can of worms. Just what we need today, as if we didn’t have enough controversial items on our plates.

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