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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions of the nation’s airplanes, calling them dangerous to Americans, presenting the airline industry with what one representative called an expensive “administrative nightmare.”
On June 10 the EPA said draft “endangerment finding” that emissions from airlines represent a threat to public health, justifying federal regulation to rein them in. Emissions from airlines make up about 2 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, and 3 percent within the United States. In terms of just emissions from aviation, U.S aircraft make up nearly a third of worldwide airline emissions.
This report allows the EPA to impose a domestic standard on carbon dioxide emissions in cooperation with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). That worldwide agency plans to open its own emissions target to public comment in February 2016, to be finalized later that year.
The EPA hasn’t yet proposed such action for the U.S. aviation industry, but it is likely to do so because of expected global growth in the industry. The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) says that the American airline industry is expecting record growth in 2015 and even further growth in subsequent years. The council says emissions have been rising by as much as 4 percent per year, and may rise by a factor of four by 2050.
Since 2007 environmental groups have been bringing pressure on the EPA to regulate aircraft emissions under the authority granted it by the Clean Air Act. In 2010 such groups sued the agency to take action, and a federal court ruled in their favor.
Environmental groups welcomed the EPA’s announcement, saying it could prompt the industry to find new ways to reduce toxic emissions. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said, “[w]ith today’s announcement, President Obama has a unique and extremely important opportunity to demonstrate leadership not only domestically but around the world.”
But some environmentalists note that the standard being developed by the ICAO may apply only to newly designed planes that won’t be flying for the immediate future. Vera Pardee, a lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity, said that could mean the organization would be regulating around 5 percent of the world’s aviation fleet because so many older aircraft have life spans of up to 30 years.
The airline industry says it’s interested in reducing toxic emissions and already is considering the use of non-polluting fuels, though they tend to be more expensive than today’s jet fuel. It also says it prefers a global approach rather than individual regulations that vary from country to country.
Paul Steele, the senior vice president at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents the industry, put it this way to The Guardian: “If you’re a big airline and you’re flying to 100 countries a day, then complying with all those different regimes is an administrative nightmare.”
For years the world’s airlines have looked for ways to reduce fuel costs, and most of them have focused on weight, which tends to correlate with higher emissions. Their efforts include using lighter materials for seats, in-flight kitchens and magazines provided to passengers. They’ve even reduced the amount of ice supplied to each aircraft.
These efforts are effective, according to the IATA. It calculates that a reduction of 5.5 pounds per flight adds up to a one-ton reduction in carbon emissions over an entire year.
By Andy Tully Of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com