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Airplane Emissions Rules Ready for Takeoff

airplaneUS climate rules targeting airplane emissions will hurt the nation’s airline industry as well as companies like Boeing and General Electric that make planes and their parts, the industry’s trade group says.

“We’re already at the edge of feasibility,” Nancy Young, vice president for environmental affairs at Airlines for America, told the New York Times. “You cannot adopt a standard that you don’t know you can meet for an aircraft. Safety is job No. 1 in aviation. And if you say maybe we can push technology to meet this, that’s a worry.”

Instead of crafting its own aircraft emissions rules, the US should stick with international standards, which Airlines for America says reflects the best available air pollution technology while ensuring passenger safety.

At issue is the so-called “endangerment finding” released last week by the EPA. It says greenhouse gas emissions from commercial aircraft engines contribute to pollution, which endangers the environment as well as human health. This finding is required before the agency can adopt any emissions rules.

While the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is expected to formally adopt global emissions standards for commercial aircraft in March 2017 — the UN aviation body reached a deal on global emissions rules with the airline industry earlier this year — the EPA says it will move forward on its own standards. These, according to the agency, will be “at least as stringent as ICAO’s standards.”

“Addressing pollution from aircraft is an important element of US efforts to address climate change,” said Janet McCabe, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for air and radiation, in a statement announcing the final endangerment finding. “Aircraft are the third largest contributor to GHG emissions in the US transportation sector, and these emissions are expected to increase in the future. EPA has already set effective GHG standards for cars and trucks and any future aircraft engine standards will also provide important climate and public health benefits.”

The international standards would require a 4 percent reduction in fuel consumption of new aircraft starting in 2028 compared with 2015. The White House says they are expected to reduce carbon emissions more than 650 million tons between 2020 and 2040.

Environmental groups have accused the ICAO of bowing to airline industry pressure and say the international standards don’t do enough to curb emissions.

“These disturbingly weak recommendations put the Obama administration under enormous pressure to fight airplane pollution’s threat to our climate,” Vera Pardee, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney who has sued the federal government over aviation emissions, previously told Environmental Leader. “The EPA has a legal and moral obligation to address the aviation industry’s skyrocketing carbon pollution.”

The aviation industry, however, says safety comes first — and rightfully so.

The airlines — and companies including Boeing and Airbus — have praised the ICAO deal and say they want the US to adopt a similar standard. Differing standards will put American companies at a competitive disadvantage, they say.

“[US companies will] have to do one thing while companies like Airbus in France and Mitsubishi in Japan won’t have to meet the standard,” Young told the New York Times.

Pardee said the endangerment finding is a good start and urged “fast, effective EPA action. Decisive EPA action on airplane pollution is critical to catalyzing change on a global scale,” she said. “Aviation’s threat to our climate is too big and growing too quickly to be ignored.”

The industry says it is already taking steps to limit climate change. It has cut carbon pollution by using biofuel instead of jet fuel and employing other emissions-reducing technologies like winglets, which improve aerodynamics, according to Airlines for America.

“Between 1978 and 2015 the US airline industry improved its fuel efficiency by over 120 percent, resulting in 4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide savings,” Young said in an email. “US airlines burned 6 percent less fuel in 2015 than they did in 2000, resulting in a 6 percent reduction in CO2 emissions, even though they carried almost 24 percent more passengers and cargo.”

Young said she “commended” the EPA’s action, but also stressed the need for US emissions rules to be “in harmony with the international standard.”

“As aviation is a global industry, with airlines operating internationally and aircraft manufacturers selling their aircraft in international markets, it is critical that aircraft emissions standards be set at the international level and not imposed unilaterally by one country or set of countries.”

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