EPA plans to issue its first-ever greenhouse gas emissions standards for aircraft this fall, the agency confirmed last week.
It’s a rare step from the Trump EPA to curtail planet-warming pollution. Plane emissions are rapidly increasing as air travel becomes more accessible around the globe.
The agency said in its latest regulatory plan, known formally as the Unified Agenda, that it expects to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking in September. The rule itself would require domestic aircraft manufacturers to ensure that new engines meet a certain carbon emissions threshold.
The United States has never enforced such a requirement. That’s in part because aviation has long been excluded from major international mandates such as the Paris climate accord and the Kyoto Protocol.
“The standards are long overdue,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We know that aircraft are an important source of greenhouse gas emissions, but they’re not covered by things like the Paris Agreement or carbon reduction schemes in the U.S. So these standards are really going to be the best effort we have to tackle pollution from this sector.”
When countries convened in 1997 to sign the Kyoto Protocol, they exempted both aviation and shipping. Instead, they agreed that two specialized U.N. bodies would be tasked with curbing emissions from those sectors.
But in the following years, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization faced criticism for moving too slowly. ICAO didn’t propose the first international limits on aircraft carbon emissions until 2017, and they won’t take effect until 2028.
The Trump EPA is now responding to the international body’s proposal. The agency said last week that its own limits “would be at least as stringent as ICAO’s standards.”
Still, environmentalists view the ICAO standards as too lenient.
“The ICAO standards themselves are pretty weak,” Lakewood said. “They’re basically an anti-backsliding provision. They require CO2 reductions of 4% over 12 years. The market forces alone are predicted to achieve efficiency gains of about 10%.”
Dan Rutherford, program director for marine and aviation with the International Council on Clean Transportation, called the ICAO standard “well below business as usual.”
“The aircraft being sold today can already easily meet the standard,” he said.
Aviation currently accounts for 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that figure is projected to rapidly increase. By 2020, the sector’s emissions are expected to grow 70% above 2005 levels. And by 2050, they could further rise by 300% to 700%, according to the European Commission.
The aviation industry has sought uniform regulations around the world, rather than a patchwork of different requirements. Lakewood said she suspects the industry is lobbying EPA to issue the new standards.
“Contrary to Trump’s red-tape cutting, sometimes it’s actually easier to have regulations in place,” Lakewood said. “And this is one instance where industry would prefer to have regulations in place.”
EPA air chief Bill Wehrum was scheduled to meet with representatives from Boeing Co. on April 2, according to his public calendar. It’s unclear whether they discussed the emissions rules.
Asked for comment, EPA spokesman Michael Abboud redirected E&E News to the entry in the Unified Agenda. He didn’t respond to a follow-up inquiry.
Boeing spokesman Paul McElroy said he didn’t know the topic of the April 2 meeting but that the company remains committed to uniform emissions standards.
“Boeing supports efforts to move forward with the ICAO CO2 standard,” McElroy said in an email. “It’s the right thing to do—for our industry, our stakeholders and our planet. Having a single emissions standard for airplanes is important as it provides a level international playing field for all original equipment manufacturers.”
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news atwww.eenews.net.