States, Groups Demand Aircraft Climate Emission Limits

LOS ANGELES, California, December 6, 2007 (ENS) – Calling aviation a “large and rapidly growing source” of greenhouse gas emissions, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. is petitioning the federal government to adopt global warming regulations for aircraft.

California is part of a coalition of five states, two cities, environmental groups and a California government agency that petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency yesterday to set limits on greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft operating in the United States.

Also filing petitions are the states of Connecticut, New Jersey and New Mexico and the District of Columbia through their attorneys general, the state of Pennsylvania through its Department of Environmental Protection, the California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District and the city of New York.

Earthjustice filed the environmental groups’ petition on behalf of the environmental groups – Friends of the Earth, Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity.

There are currently no greenhouse gas emissions controls on aircraft.

“Aviation is a large and rapidly growing source of greenhouse gases and the EPA should have taken action by now to curb these emissions. Not to do so, ignores the tremendous opportunity for technological innovations that can increase efficiency and reduce emissions,” Attorney General Brown told a news conference Wednesday at the Los Angeles International Airport.
A plane takes off from Los Angeles International Airport (Photo courtesy Los Angeles World Airports)
“Aircraft engines burn massive quantities of fossil fuels and inject greenhouse gas pollution at high altitudes – right where these emissions have a heightened negative impact,” he said.

Because aircraft contribute large quantities of global greenhouse gas emissions and the volume of air traffic is expected to increase in the future, the petitioners are asking the EPA to make an explicit finding that greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health and welfare.

The petition asks the EPA to respond within 180 days and initiate a formal process to limit emissions from all aircraft – both domestic and foreign – arriving or departing U.S. airports.

Aircraft in 2005 contributed three percent of the United States’ total carbon dioxide emissions and 12 percent of the transportation sector emissions, according to EPA estimates.

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that emissions from domestic aircraft will rise 60 percent by 2025 due to expected increases in air transportation.

Because aircraft release emissions at high altitudes, the impact of aviation on global warming is greater than other major greenhouse gas emission sources. When nitrous oxide, for example, is emitted at high altitudes it generates much greater concentrations of ozone than when it is emitted at ground level.

“Global warming pollution is taking a massive toll on marine life,” said Dr. Michael Hirshfield, Oceana’s chief scientist and senior vice president for North America. “To preserve these critical ecosystems, the U.S. must take the lead in regulating aircraft emissions, since aircraft are a major source of carbon dioxide,” he said.

In its petition, California asserts that the EPA has the authority and the duty to adopt greenhouse gas emissions standards for aircraft after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last April that greenhouse gases are pollutants and therefore within EPA’s regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act.

Section 231 of the Clean Air Act reads, “The Administrator shall, from time to time, issue proposed emission standards applicable to the emissions of any air pollutant from any class or classes of aircraft engines which in his judgment causes, or contributes to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”

“With the April 2007 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, EPA now has a mandate to regulate greenhouse gas emissions,” said Alice Thomas, an attorney from Earthjustice who filed the petition on behalf of the environmental groups. “Today, we are asking the EPA to begin the process of reducing the global warming impact from one of the world’s fastest growing sectors.”

The Air Transport Association of America, ATA, which represents the nation’s leading airlines, did not comment directly on the petition, but did comment on the greenhouse gas cap-and-trade legislation that was approved by a committe of the U.S. Senate today.

“While the airlines and pilots continue to take their environmental responsibilities very seriously, we have real concerns about the costs and effects of this proposed legislation,” said ATA President and CEO James May.

“By including jet fuel in a cap-and-trade greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme, the legislation essentially would serve as an unnecessary and additional tax on fuel,” said May. “It would greatly increase airline costs and would compromise our ability to invest in new aircraft and other fleet upgrades – the very things we need to continue to improve our emissions profile.”

Last year, the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, passed a resolution to set international emissions reduction agreements but has taken no additional action to further this goal.

In response to the persistent lack of aircraft emissions rules, the European Parliament gave preliminary approval last month to a global warming control plan that limits carbon dioxide emissions from airlines flying to and from Europe beginning in 2011.

“Global warming is the single greatest threat to the diversity of life on Earth,” said Andrea Treece, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We still have a window of opportunity to save species like the polar bear but that window is rapidly closing. Limiting greenhouse gas pollution from aviation is an important part of the overall solution and the EPA should do so immediately.”

The need for action to combat climate disruption is urgent, the petitioners assert. Last month, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, who heads the Nobel prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said, “What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.”

Climate change impacts that will continue to occur include increasing temperatures, heat waves, melting of glaciers, changes in precipitation, increased hurricane intensity, rising sea levels and coastal flooding, increased heat-related illnesses, and widespread extinction of species.

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