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US EPA takes first steps to control GHG emissions from aircraft

11 June 2015

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a Proposed Rule to find under section 231(a) of the Clean Air Act that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from commercial aircraft contribute to the pollution that causes climate change endangering the health and welfare of Americans. At the same time, the EPA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that provides information on the process for setting international CO2 emissions standards for aircraft at the International Civil Aviation Organization, and describes and seeks input on the potential use of section 231 of the Clean Air Act to adopt a corresponding standard domestically. The proposed endangerment finding has been triggered in part by a lawsuit filed against the EPA by a number of US environmental groups.

For the past five years, ICAO—a specialized body of the United Nations with 191 member states—has been working with the aviation industry and other stakeholders to develop coordinated, international CO2 emissions standards for aircraft. The EPA and the Federal Aviation Administration, representing the United States, are participating in ICAO’s process to ensure that any standards achieve meaningful CO2 emissions reductions through policies that are equitable across national boundaries. The ICAO standards are expected to be adopted in early 2016. The EPA proposal lays the necessary foundation for the development and implementation of a domestic aircraft standard, in accordance with US law and the ICAO process, said the agency.

The proposed endangerment finding applies to GHG emissions from engines used in US subsonic jet aircraft with a maximum takeoff mass (MTOM) greater than 5,700 kg and in subsonic propeller driven (e.g., turboprop) aircraft with a MTOM greater than 8,618 kg. Examples of covered aircraft include smaller jet aircraft such as the Cessna Citation CJ2+ and the Embraer E170, up to and including the largest jet aircraft: the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747. Other examples of covered aircraft would include larger turboprop aircraft, such as the ATR 72 and the Bombardier Q400. The actions do not apply to small piston-engine planes (the type of plane often used for recreational purposes) or to military aircraft.

US aircraft emit roughly 11% of GHG emissions from the US transportation sector and 29% of GHG emissions from all aircraft globally, according to the EPA. In 2009, the EPA determined that GHG pollution from cars and light trucks threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long-lasting changes in our climate. Since then, the body of science on human-induced climate change has strengthened—said the agency—supporting the proposed finding (under a different section of the Clean Air Act) that GHGs emitted from aircraft engines contribute to pollution that causes climate change endangering public health and welfare. The EPA action supports the goals of the US President’s “Climate Action Plan” to reduce emissions from large sources of carbon pollution, said the EPA.

Once the Proposed Rule and Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is published in the Federal Register, it will be open for a 60-day public comment period.

Source: US EPA