Press Release

State AGs Push EPA to Go Beyond ‘Feeble, Already-Obsolete’ Greenhouse Gas Standards for Airplanes

Coalition calls for meaningful controls on climate-warming pollution from aviation, 'the single largest unregulated GHG emissions source' in the domestic transportation sector.

Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — A coali­tion of 12 attor­neys gen­er­al led by Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra sub­mit­ted com­ments today in oppo­si­tion to the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s (EPA) pro­pos­al to estab­lish hol­low green­house gas (GHG) emis­sions stan­dards for air­planes that would result in no actu­al emis­sions reduc­tions.

The EPA’s pro­pos­al mir­rors a set of stan­dards devel­oped by the Inter­na­tion­al Civ­il Avi­a­tion Orga­ni­za­tion (ICAO) in 2016, which were set to such a low strin­gency lev­el that all air­craft cur­rent­ly in devel­op­ment or in pro­duc­tion would already com­ply.” The attor­neys gen­er­al warn that the pro­pos­al is an emp­ty exer­cise that sub­sti­tutes fee­ble, already-obso­lete stan­dards for the crit­i­cal­ly need­ed reg­u­la­tion Con­gress intend­ed.”

If we hope to leave behind a hab­it­able plan­et for the next gen­er­a­tion, we must tack­le the cli­mate cri­sis head on,” said AG Becer­ra. The avi­a­tion indus­try is a sig­nif­i­cant source of glob­al emis­sions. But this sham pro­pos­al to reg­u­late it is the equiv­a­lent of doing noth­ing. We call on the EPA to do its job and present real options to reduce emis­sions from this sec­tor.”

The EPA’s pro­pos­al is a one-way tick­et to high­er emis­sions and wors­en­ing cli­mate tur­bu­lence,” said David J. Hayes, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter. The EPA has a real oppor­tu­ni­ty here to adopt ambi­tious but achiev­able stan­dards that would spur inno­va­tion and dri­ve much-need­ed emis­sions reduc­tions. Instead, the admin­is­tra­tion is pur­su­ing emp­ty stan­dards that its own analy­sis con­firms will do absolute­ly noth­ing to reduce the avi­a­tion sector’s sig­nif­i­cant and grow­ing cli­mate impact.”

Emis­sions Con­text — Trans­porta­tion is the largest source of U.S. green­house gas emis­sions, and avi­a­tion accounts for at least 12% of the sector’s over­all emis­sions. Accord­ing to the EPA itself, GHG emis­sions from U.S. air­craft alone rank high­er than total GHG emis­sions from more than 150 entire coun­tries.” U.S. air­craft are respon­si­ble for more than one-quar­ter of glob­al avi­a­tion emis­sions, and emis­sions from air­craft cov­ered by the EPA’s pro­pos­al are pro­ject­ed to grow by 43 per­cent over the next two decades.” The EPA’s pro­posed stan­dards would mere­ly slow down the mas­sive increase in avi­a­tion sec­tor emis­sions pro­ject­ed through 2040,” and would do noth­ing to “‘bend the curve’ down toward car­bon-neu­tral­i­ty, which is nec­es­sary to stave off the worst effects of cli­mate change.”

Reg­u­la­to­ry Con­text — Sec­tion 231 of the Clean Air Act autho­rizes and directs EPA to issue appro­pri­ate emis­sion stan­dards for dan­ger­ous pol­lu­tion from air­craft engines,” and past agency prac­tice affirms EPA’s statu­to­ry duty to base air­craft stan­dards on a for­ward-look­ing eval­u­a­tion of air qual­i­ty needs and tech­no­log­i­cal fea­si­bil­i­ty.” If the EPA moves for­ward by sim­ply mir­ror­ing the ICAO’s back of the pack” fuel effi­cien­cy stan­dard — a stan­dard so lax that even the worst per­form­ing air­craft fleets would meet it” — the agency would fail to exer­cise the dis­cre­tion Con­gress invest­ed in it and fail its man­date to reduce pol­lu­tion to the full extent prac­ti­ca­ble and nec­es­sary.” The EPA ignored a host of tech­ni­cal­ly fea­si­ble options with the poten­tial to curb air­craft GHG emis­sions,” includ­ing weight-reduc­ing tech­nolo­gies, alter­na­tive fuels with low­er car­bon inten­si­ty than con­ven­tion­al jet fuel, and changes to ground oper­a­tions, air traf­fic con­trol and flight routes.

Fed­er­al­ism Con­text — The attor­neys gen­er­al empha­size that their states have made sig­nif­i­cant efforts to address aviation’s cli­mate impacts by reduc­ing and off­set­ting green­house gas emis­sions from air­ports, but are pre­empt­ed under the Clean Air Act from estab­lish­ing their own emis­sions stan­dards for air­craft. States are depen­dent on EPA to adopt fed­er­al stan­dards to reduce emis­sions, pro­tect the health and wel­fare of their res­i­dents, and avoid dam­age to their economies,” and face immi­nent harm from EPA’s fail­ure to act more aggres­sive­ly.”

The attor­neys gen­er­al of Con­necti­cut, Illi­nois, Mary­land, Mass­a­chu­setts, Min­neso­ta, New Jer­sey, New York, Ore­gon, Ver­mont, Wash­ing­ton and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., along with the Cal­i­for­nia Air Resources Board (CARB) joined AG Becer­ra in sub­mit­ting the comments.

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About the State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter
The State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter (State Impact Cen­ter) is a non-par­ti­san Cen­ter at the NYU School of Law that is ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing state attor­neys gen­er­al fight against reg­u­la­to­ry roll­backs and advo­cate for clean ener­gy, cli­mate change, and envi­ron­men­tal val­ues and pro­tec­tions. For more infor­ma­tion, vis­it our web­site.