Last updated: 05:40 PM ET, Wed June 10 2015

EPA Takes Aim At Airline Emissions

Airlines & Airports | Rich Thomaselli | June 10, 2015

EPA Takes Aim At Airline Emissions

Just as it did with the automobile industry many years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency has its sights set on airlines now.

The EPA today issued an ‘endangerment finding,’ which is basically a precursor to imposing new rules on airlines to regulation carbon emissions it says contributes to global warming.

"The EPA administrator is proposing to find that (greenhouse gas) emissions from certain classes of engines used primarily in commercial aircraft contribute to the air pollution that causes climate change and endangers public health and welfare," the agency said in a statement.

Naturally, this is likely to become a huge political issue well beyond the current Obama administration. Democrats have long pushed for sweeping environmental changes, but Republicans say regulations on airlines are likely un-needed, given that airlines already have enough incentive to reduce its carbon footprint given the fluctuating price of fuel.

In fact, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said airline manufacturers such as Boeing are already introducing fuel efficient engines, and that a crackdown by the EPA would lead to higher ticket prices.

“The sky is the limit when it comes to how much of the U.S. economy the EPA wants to control,” Smith said in a statement, calling this the “next leg of a nonstop journey by the EPA to control how Americans live, work and travel.”

Still, the industry is generally in agreement with the EPA. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a branch of the United Nations, helped the EPA with this initiative. The organization has helped develop a carbon dioxide certification standard for new types of aircraft.

Airlines For America, which represents virtually all of the major domestic airlines, noted in a statement that U.S. carriers have already been at work to decrease emissions. U.S. airlines drive five percent of U.S. economic activity but account for only two percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, A4A said.

“Aviation is a global industry, making it critical that aircraft emissions standards continue to be agreed upon at the international level,” said A4A Vice President for Environmental Affairs Nancy Young. “While we believe that any regulatory action must be consistent with both the agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act and the future ICAO standard, today’s action reconfirms the EPA’s commitment to the ICAO process for achieving a global CO2 standard for new aircraft.”

Young noted the U.S. aviation industry’s exceptional environmental track record, having improved fuel efficiency over 120 percent since 1978, and saving over 3.8 billion metric tons of CO2, the equivalent to taking 23 million cars off the road each of those years. Further, the U.S. airlines carried 20 percent more passengers and cargo in 2014 than they did in 2000, while emitting 8 percent less CO2.

“U.S. airlines are green and we are getting even greener,” said Young. “The technology, operations and infrastructure initiatives that our airlines are undertaking to further address GHG emissions are designed to responsibly and effectively limit their carbon emissions and potential climate change impacts while allowing them to continue to serve as drivers of U.S. and global economies.”


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