States and enviro groups petition EPA to regulate aviation greenhouse emissions


A coalition of California and other states, along with Earthjustice and other environmental groups, is filing formal petitions calling on the the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to exercise its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from domestic and foreign aircraft departing or landing at American airports. On July 18 Climate Science Watch published a report critical of the administration’s failure to address aviation’s contribution to global warming in the federal aviation planning and development program. We called for aviation emissions to be addressed in U.S. climate change policy and regulation. The action to petition EPA is a significant step forward in advancing the issue of aviation and climate change, which has been neglected for too long in the debate on climate policy.   

We applaud the States of California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, and the City of New York, as well as the indispensable Earthjustice, our friends at the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Oceana for carrying this issue forward.

The petition is posted here.

From some of the press coverage on the petition:

Associated Press

December 5, 2007
Filed at 7:53 a.m. ET

Petition Seeks Curbs on Plane Emissions

SAN FRANCISCO (AP)—A coalition of states and environmental groups is urging the federal government to curb global warming pollution from planes and other aircraft.

California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia plan to file a petition Wednesday asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from domestic and foreign aircraft departing or landing at American airports.

‘’We want the EPA to take their head out of the sand and actively promulgate rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,’’ California Attorney General Jerry Brown told The Associated Press. ‘’The EPA has taken a very passive and unimaginative approach to combating global warming.’’

Aviation is responsible for about 3 percent of the country’s overall carbon dioxide emissions, and the Federal Aviation Administration expects domestic aircraft emissions to rise by 60 percent by 2025, according to the petition.

The petition asks the EPA to develop rules to reduce aircraft emissions by requiring operators to boost fuel efficiency, use cleaner fuels or build lighter, more aerodynamic airplanes.

Earthjustice, an Oakland-based environmental law firm, plans to file a similar petition on behalf of Friends of the Earth, Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity. The city of New York and California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District joined the states’ petition….

San Francisco Chronicle

Aircraft account for up to 12 percent of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the U.S. transportation sector, according to the EPA. And without stricter emissions controls, it will only get worse: By 2025, U.S. air traffic is expected to rise by 60 percent, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Because planes travel miles above Earth’s surface, they have a disproportionate impact on climate change, scientists say. Gases and particles more potently form ozone, a greenhouse gas, when released in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere than when emitted on the ground, they say.

In addition, the pollutants and water vapor discharged high in the atmosphere can alter greenhouse gas concentrations. The vapor can cause formation of condensation trails, or contrails, and heat-trapping cirrus clouds, which many scientists believe accelerate the warming effect….

In a companion petition, three environmental groups – Friends of the Earth, Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity – argue that the EPA could effectively reduce aircraft pollution by requiring short-term changes in how airplanes operate and encouraging long-term investment in new technology.

“Aviation greenhouse gas emissions are increasing faster than voluntary improvements in fuel efficiency,” said Alice Thomas, an attorney with Earthjustice, the San Francisco legal group that filed the petition on behalf of the environmental groups.

Some changes in aircraft operations that could occur now include reducing how long planes are allowed to idle, using only one engine when taxiing and better controlling engine thrusts during takeoffs and landings….

It’s clear that the federal government has authority to regulate aircraft, particularly under a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the petitions say. In April, the court ruled that under the Clean Air Act, the EPA can regulate any pollutant that contributes to “air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”

Los Angeles Times

The CSW report is titled NextGen Air Transportation System Progress Reports Ignore Climate Change. It can be viewed here

The CSW report is referenced in the petition under “Key Aviation and Global Warming Resources.” In the section of the petition on “Improved Aviation Operations and Procedures Can Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions Significantly,” the CSW report is cited as a source for the concluding paragraph (p.11):

Measures to reduce the global warming impact of aviation should be a central consideration in the development of new air traffic management systems.55 Improvements in air
traffic management procedures alone could reduce aviation fuel use by between six and eighteen percent, and other operations measures could result in a further two to six percent improvement
in efficiency.56 Unfortunately, the Next Generation Air Transportation System (“NextGen”), the U.S. government’s most recent initiative to update and improve America’s air traffic system,57 currently does not include any measures to address the climate change impacts of aviation. In fact, neither the 2005 nor the 2006 NextGen progress report contains a single reference to climate change.58

55 Thea Sebastian & Rick Pitz, NextGen Air Transportation System Progress Reports Ignore Climate Change, CLIMATE SCIENCE WATCH (July 2007), available at:
56 International Civil Aviation Organization, ENVIRONMENTAL REPORT 2007 (2007) at 108, available at [hereinafter ICAO ENVIRONMENTAL REPORT].
57 NextGen is comprised of representatives of the Department of Transportation (with FAA as the lead planning agency), Homeland Security, the Departments of Defense and Commerce, NASA, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, with the oversight of the Joint Planning and Development Office (“JPDO”).
58 Sebastian & Pitz, supra note 55, at 7.

See our earlier posts:

July 18: “Climate Science Watch report: Federal NextGen aviation planning is ignoring global warming”

August 18: “Congressman Markey Queries Federal Aviation Administrator on Failure to Consider Climate Change”

August 18: “In These Times says U.S. Puts Concerns about Aviation’s Climate Impacts ‘On Stand-by’”


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