BREAKING: EPA To Limit Greenhouse Gases From Airplanes

SOURCEThink Progress

The EPA just took a major step towards curbing airline emissions.

After years of deliberations and lawsuits, the EPA on Monday issued its final endangerment finding for airline emissions, legally requiring the agency to move forward with regulation.

“Addressing pollution from aircraft is an important element of U.S. efforts to address climate change,” said Janet McCabe, EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation. “Aircraft are the third-largest contributor to [greenhouse gas] emissions in the U.S. transportation sector, and these emissions are expected to increase in the future.”

Environmentalists have been pushing for the EPA to regulate the airline industry for years, but the EPA had been waiting for a decision from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In February, ICAO released a new set of guidelines for airplanes, but they will take decades to implement and fall far short of what environmentalists were hoping for.

“The endangerment finding is key because it obligates the EPA to take regulatory action to cut CO2 emissions from aircraft — it triggers a legal mandate,” said Drew Kodjak, executive director of the ICCT. “Our analysis clearly shows that the aircraft CO2 standard proposed by the International Civil Aviation Organization won’t offer meaningful reductions. This opens a real possibility to get a better standard.”

Other environmental groups were also quick to applaud the EPA’s action.

“Fighting dangerous climate change requires an all-encompassing approach that curbs every important source of carbon pollution, and that means from cars and trucks, power plants and airplanes, as well as other climate pollutants like methane and HFCs,” David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

“With every month this year breaking global heat records, it’s clear we must act on climate in every way possible, and now.”

Airline travel accounts for 3 percent of the United States’ overall emissions, and as air travel increases and other sources of emissions come under scrutiny, that proportion is expected to increase.

The amazing thing is that there is most likely a lot of room to reduce emissions — if action is made a priority. A study conducted by Virgin Airlines found that educating pilots on efficiency resulted in a whopping 30 percent decrease in fuel use.

“As there is a direct relationship between aircraft fuel use, carbon emissions and costs, any improvements represent a double win for the company,” the company said in a summary of the findings.

(Incidentally, studies on cars have also shown that there are massive fuel reductions available to drivers who simply drive more efficiently. That means slower starts, not accelerating to stops, and taking excess weight out of their cars.)

From the beginning of the 1980s to the end of the century, U.S. passenger airline consumption of gas has doubled to nearly 20 billion gallons annually, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The findings and regulation will apply to passenger aircraft, and do not apply to “small piston-engine planes (the type of plane often used for recreational purposes), or to military aircraft,” the EPA said.

It’s unclear when the EPA will issue its proposed rule, the next step in this process, but environmental advocates urged the administration to work quickly.

“After nearly a decade of denial and delay, we need fast, effective EPA action,” Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “The Obama administration must quickly devise ambitious aircraft pollution rules that dramatically reduce this high-flying hazard to our climate.”


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Samantha Page is a climate reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she launched a hyperlocal Patch site in Los Angeles, and reported for the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, and GlobalPost. She has also worked for the solar industry’s trade association as a press officer. She attended Carleton College and the Annenberg School for Journalism at the University of Southern California.