After nine years of delay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today officially acknowledged in a so-called “endangerment finding” that planet-warming pollution from airplanes disrupts the climate and endangers human welfare. But the agency failed to move forward on rules to actually reduce aircraft emissions.
“EPA officials finally acknowledged airplane pollution’s obvious climate threat, but they’re still not actually cutting the airline industry’s skyrocketing emissions,” said Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “After nearly a decade of denial and delay, we need fast, effective EPA action. The Obama administration must quickly devise ambitious aircraft pollution rules that dramatically reduce this high-flying hazard to our climate.”
“The endangerment finding documents the magnitude of airplanes’ contribution to climate change, but EPA fails to take steps to address these harms,” said Sarah Burt, staff attorney at Earthjustice. “We will continue to use the power of law to compel EPA to put in place standards that actually reduce harmful pollution from aircraft.”
“People should not have to choose between mobility and a healthy climate,” said Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “The EPA’s nine-year delay on regulating aircraft emissions failed the American people. Now it’s time for the Obama administration to issue a strong rule, to hold the aviation industry accountable for its significant contributions to climate disruption, and to act immediately to curb air pollution worldwide.”
The Center and Friends of the Earth, represented by Earthjustice, first petitioned the EPA in 2007 to regulate carbon emissions from aircraft under the federal Clean Air Act, which requires the government to issue emissions standards for any aircraft pollutant that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”
The EPA finally began evaluating the climate risk of airplane pollution in 2014, shortly after environmental organizations filed a notice of intent to sue the agency for failing to reduce aircraft emissions.
Airplane greenhouse gas pollution is growing rapidly. If commercial aviation were considered a country, it would rank seventh after Germany in terms of carbon emissions. Airplanes could generate 43 gigatonnes of planet-warming pollution through 2050, consuming more than 4 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget, according to a recent Center report.
Studies show aircraft emissions could be reduced dramatically. A recent International Council on Clean Transportation report showed that some of the top 20 transatlantic air carriers can drive down greenhouse emissions by as much as 51 percent using existing technology and operational improvements.
The first international standards for carbon pollution from airplanes recommended earlier this year by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) are years behind the existing technology curve, would not reduce emissions from new planes beyond business as usual and would not even apply to any in-service aircraft.
“Decisive EPA action on airplane pollution is critical to catalyzing change on a global scale,” Pardee said. “Aviation’s threat to our climate is too big and growing too quickly to be ignored.”