EPA to Take First Step Toward Regulating U.S. Aircraft Emissions

The Obama administration will take a first step on Wednesday to regulate emissions from airplanes, expanding its reach beyond automobiles and power plants in a campaign to fight climate change.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will propose a finding, subject to public comment, that the burning of jet fuel poses a danger to human health and welfare. It also will announce plans to write a rule to limit or offset such emissions, according to the person briefed by the agency who requested anonymity to discuss the decision.

Environmental groups have pushed the EPA for years to regulate aircraft emissions. President Barack Obama, who has made fighting climate change a top priority of his final years in office, is also planning to limit emissions from heavy-duty trucks.

Some environmental groups have expressed concern that the agency’s work on aircraft will be linked to the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization to craft a global standard, instead of setting its own carbon dioxide emission limits for the U.S.

Liz Purchia, a spokeswoman for EPA, declined to comment on the timing of the announcement.

ICAO-developed regulations “are going to be a travesty,” Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an interview last week in anticipation of the EPA announcement.

Pardee’s organization is one of several environmental groups that had petitioned the EPA to regulate aircraft emissions.

Global Industry

Airlines for America, the main lobby group for the airline companies, said its important that the EPA not act on its own given the global nature of the industry.

“It is critical that aircraft emissions standards continue to be agreed at the international level,” Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement before the announcement.

William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents the air pollution control agencies from 42 states, said the U.S. airline industry represents the “largest remaining uncontrolled source of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.” It contributes more than 3 percent of overall U.S. greenhouse gases, Becker said.

“It is critical that EPA and the rest of the world, through the International Civil Aviation Organization, move quickly and seek meaningful greenhouse gas emission reductions,” Becker said.

Environmental groups such as Oceana, Friends of the Earth, and Earthjustice petitioned the agency in 2007 to address aircraft emissions.

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 plants.

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