The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Quick Action Needed from Obama Administration to Limit Airplane Emissions

Federal court hears challenge today on lack of greenhouse gas standards for airplanes


The Obama Administration should take quick and robust action to limit emissions from airplanes, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said today, as the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia hears a challenge from environmental, health and technology groups to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) failure to respond to the groups' petition to determine whether pollution from aircraft and other non-road sources endangers public health and welfare and to set greenhouse gas emissions standards for these sources.

The Administration has made significant progress in improving the efficiency of cars and trucks, spurring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and trillions of dollars in consumer savings. The aviation sector has yet to follow suit in cooperating with the administration in such standards.

"A central environmental achievement of the Obama Administration has been increasing the efficiency and greenhouse gas performance of the nation's automobile fleet," EDFAttorney Pamela Campos said. "Today's hearing is an opportunity for the United States to bring its leadership to the next frontier of transportation - the skies.

"The Obama Administration should take quick and robust action to set efficiency standards for airplanes. Passengers, airports, airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and local communities will all benefit from standards that keep our air clean and boost the competitiveness of our airlines," Campos said.

Today's hearing is the result of a petition filed in 2007 by the groups - Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, International Center for Technology Assessment, and Oceana, all represented by Earthjustice - requesting the development of aircraft emissions standards for greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The Court has already concluded EPA has the duty to determine the public health and welfare risks posed by global warming pollution from airplanes; today's hearing is about the timeline to do so.

Global warming pollution from airplanes is expected to quadruple by 2050 if left unregulated. Aircraft engines produce pollution similar to those from cars and trucks, but because it's released in the upper parts of the atmosphere as opposed to at ground level, the pollution's impact on the climate may be much greater.

A report from the International Civil Aviation Organization estimates the aviation sector could achieve fuel burn reductions of up to 30 percent by 2020 and 35 percent by 2030 from technology advances alone. Technologies like those that improve engine performance, increase aerodynamics and reduce weight, are already being employed today in new aircraft to reduce fuel and emissions from the aviation sector. Limiting greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes would further incentivize the transition to such technologies. Airline operational improvements and new traffic control systems such as NextGen, which will be funded through a recently passed bill, can also provide meaningful additional reductions.

The Obama Administration has successfully established standards limiting global warming pollution from cars and trucks. These standards, finalized jointly in 2010 by U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation, are already in place and save consumers up to $3,000 over the life of a vehicle. A second phase of standards, for model year 2017-2025 passenger vehicles, will be finalized this year, doubling the fuel economy of today's vehicles. In 2011, EPA and DOT also established the world's first greenhouse gas standards for highway trucks and buses, reducing oil consumption by more than 530 million barrels, saving more than $49 billion in net benefits, and cutting carbon dioxide pollution by 270 million metric tons.

"This Administration has forged the path of partnership for establishing fuel efficiency standards in the transportation sector," Campos said. "Aviation is an important piece in completing that effort."