Environmental groups today sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a nearly decade-long failure to set emission standards that curb greenhouse gas pollution from the nation’s aircraft fleet.
The lawsuit, filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks to compel the EPA to complete the rulemaking process for airplane climate pollution.
The groups’ complaint notes that the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to issue emission standards for any aircraft pollutant that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” Airplanes are one of the fastest-growing carbon emissions sources, projected to triple by 2050 without regulations.
“Airplanes’ skyrocketing climate pollution requires urgent action, not more foot dragging from the Obama administration,” said Vera Pardee, a senior attorney with the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “The EPA has dawdled for almost a decade, even as airplane emissions are on track to spiral out of control. We can’t afford more denial and delay in tackling this high-flying threat to our climate.”
Today’s suit comes nearly 10 years after the groups filed a legal petition in 2007 urging the EPA to reduce emissions of air pollutants from aircraft that contribute to global warming.
“The evidence becomes clearer every day that airplanes significantly accelerate climate disruption,” said Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “The Obama administration must act immediately to curb aircraft’s significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.”
“Next month President Obama will show his commitment to fighting climate change when he signs the Paris Climate Agreement, but the standards he is prepared to accept for carbon pollution from airplanes are embarrassingly low,” said Sarah Burt, Earthjustice’s legal expert on aircraft pollution. “There is an opportunity for Obama to continue his global leadership on climate change by advancing stronger protections. As the largest contributor to aircraft carbon pollution, the U.S. should lead the way to meaningful action on this source of emissions.”
In February the International Civil Aviation Organization recommended weak international standards for airplane pollution that would barely alter the industry’s steeply-rising pollution curve. These weak standards do not meet U.S. legal requirements, increasing pressure on the EPA to propose stronger rules.
In 2010 the Center, Friends of the Earth and other environmental organizations represented by Earthjustice sued to force EPA to set standards on greenhouse gas pollution from aircraft. A judge quickly ruled that the EPA is required to address aircraft emissions under the Clean Air Act.
Last year, facing new legal pressure, the EPA finally issued a proposed finding that greenhouse emissions from aircraft endanger public welfare. But the proposed “endangerment finding” does not make a final determination, and EPA did not propose emission standards. The agency recently announced that 2017 would be the earliest date for publication of a proposed rule, with 2018 as the earliest possible date for the promulgation of a final rule regulating aircraft emissions.
Airplanes could generate 43 gigatonnes of planet-warming pollution through 2050, consuming almost 5 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget, according to a recent Center report.
Dramatic aviation emission reductions are readily achievable, a recent International Council on Clean Transportation report shows. Despite the airline industry’s claim that fuel costs already forces it to operate as efficiently as possible, the report found a 26 percent gap between the most and least fuel-efficient airlines serving America’s domestic market.