The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has proposed carbon dioxide limits on coal-fired power plants, is nearing a decision on whether to regulate aircraft emissions in response to global warming.
The federal agency is scheduled to issue a determination this month on burning jet fuel and its potential danger to human health by increasing the risks of climate change.
Such a finding “may open the door for meaningful regulation,” said Joel Finkelstein, a spokesman for Climate Advisers, a Washington-based group that advocates for carbon limits. He said a decision could come as soon as this week and he believes the agency will conclude that aircraft emissions endanger the climate.
Environmental groups such as Oceana, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice petitioned the agency in 2007 to take action. The EPA issued a finding in 2009 that greenhouse gases were a danger to public health, part of the agency’s effort to establish fuel-economy standards for automobiles and trucks. The same finding was used last year in proposing regulations for power-plant emissions.
“We believe the EPA will conclude that airplane carbon emissions are a threat to human health and welfare,” Patrick Sullivan, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an e-mail. “As with power-plant climate pollution, the science permits no other conclusion.”
Liz Purchia, a spokeswoman for EPA, declined to comment on the agency’s plans. The agency sent its proposal to the White House for review in March and on its website said it planned to publish the decision this month.
Airlines for America, the main lobby group for the industry, said the EPA standard should be consistent with a global emissions goal being developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
“As aviation is a global industry, with airlines and aircraft operators operating internationally and aircraft manufacturers selling their aircraft in international markets, it is critical that aircraft emissions standards continue to be agreed at the international level,” Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for the group, said in an e-mail.
On its website, the group said airlines used 8 percent less fuel from 2000 through last year, producing an 8 percent cut in carbon emissions. In the same period, jet fuel costs more than tripled, it said.
The American Sustainable Business Council, which says it represents over 200,000 businesses, in a May 18 letter to the EPA urged it to adopt new emissions rules that the aviation industry accounts for about “5 percent of global climate pollution and is one of the world’s fastest growing sources of global warming pollution.”
Sarah Burt, a staff attorney with Earthjustice, said environmental groups were concerned that the EPA’s rule may not be tough enough if the agency ties it to the standard being developed by ICAO.
“The concern is that what ICAO is going to do will be woefully insufficient,” Burt said.
ICAO anticipates its standard may be completed in the first part of 2016, she said.