Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Failure to Cut Airplane Climate Pollution

First-ever airplane emissions rule fails to reduce greenhouse gases.


Miranda Fox, Earthjustice, (415) 283-2324,

Clare Lakewood, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 316-8615,

Joanne Spalding, Sierra Club, (510) 612-4062,

Environmental groups sued the Trump administration today over its finalization of the nation’s first-ever airplane climate emissions standards, which don’t actually reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards finalized late last month lag behind existing technology by more than 10 years. Planes are already the third-largest source of transportation-related greenhouse emissions. Over the past decade, airplane emissions rose by 44% and were set to triple again by 2050 ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.

Based on the rule’s outdated, ineffective standard, the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit today, along with Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club, both of which are represented by Earthjustice, in the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit to challenge its adoption.

The rule challenged today won’t apply to in-service airplanes and won’t apply to new in-production airplanes until 2028. At that point the EPA expects all airplanes to already comply with the standards or be phased out. As a result, the agency doesn’t project any emissions reductions from the rule.

“Even in its last days, this reckless administration persists in passing rules that allow unnecessary climate pollution to continue,” said Clare Lakewood, legal director of the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “We’re confident that we’ll stop this rule in court and we look forward to serious, science-based standards from the new Biden administration.”

Twelve states plus the District of Columbia are also petitioning for the court’s review of the rule.

“This lawsuit is a unified effort from states and allied NGOs against yet another polluting giveaway to industry from the Trump administration in its final disgraceful days,” said Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel for the Sierra Club. “Strong federal action is necessary to curb emissions from aviation, a significant and growing source of pollution. We urge the Biden-Harris administration to restore the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency, protecting communities and climate, by setting strong emission standards for aircraft using existing technology.”

Earlier this year the Center for Biological Diversity released a report that explained how climate pollution from U.S. aviation could be cut by three-quarters or more in the next 20 years.

In 2010 the Center, Friends of the Earth and other organizations represented by Earthjustice sued EPA to force the agency to set greenhouse pollution standards for airplanes. A judge ruled that the EPA is required to address aviation emissions under the Clean Air Act.

“This standard fails to reduce emissions from aircraft and represents a missed opportunity to address climate change,” said Sarah Burt, deputy managing attorney of Earthjustice’s International Program. “The Clean Air Act clearly establishes an obligation to reduce emissions of harmful pollutants that endanger public health and welfare. Our petition asks the D.C. Circuit to hold EPA to this obligation to work toward a future where our transportation systems no longer contribute to a warming world.”

The EPA determined in 2016 that aircraft pollution drives climate change and endangers public health. The United States contributes about a quarter of worldwide aviation greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions from U.S. aircraft alone are higher than the total emissions of more than 150 countries.

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