EPA: Airplane Carbon Pollution Endangers Public Health and Welfare, Must Be Controlled

Agency announces plans for carbon pollution controls on airplanes


Sarah Burt, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2055

The EPA announced today its finding that greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft are a danger to public health and welfare, and that it is planning to set carbon pollution controls for airplanes. Under the Clean Air Act, the agency is obligated to regulate pollutants found to be harmful to public health and welfare.

The following are comments from Sarah Burt, Earthjustice attorney who brought the lawsuit that compelled this news. Earthjustice petitioned EPA to regulation climate pollution from aviation in 2007, and Earthjustice 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.

“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. 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, EPA proposes to follow the lead of the International Civil Aviation Organization 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.

“The International Civil Aviation Organization’s standard 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.”

An airplane.
Global aviation, if it were equivalent to a country, would be the 7th largest global emitter, just below Germany and more than Korea and Canada. (Photo courtesy of Travis Olbrich)

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