EPA Releases First US Airplane Emissions Rules, Environmental Groups Express Criticism

December 30th, 2020   •   Comments Off on EPA Releases First US Airplane Emissions Rules, Environmental Groups Express Criticism   
EPA Releases First US Airplane Emissions Rules, Environmental Groups Express Criticism

Airbus unveiled three new zero-emission commercial aircraft concepts, all named ZEROe, this year.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the first U.S. airplane emission rules which will align with the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) carbon dioxide emission standards, the agency announced on Dec. 28. However, environmental groups and the agency itself say these rules will not reduce emissions. 

The standards apply to new design airplanes and in-production airplanes used by civil subsonic jet airplanes with a maximum takeoff mass greater than 5,700 kilograms and civil larger subsonic propeller-driven airplanes with turboprop engines with a maximum takeoff mass greater than 8,618 kilograms, according to the final rule document released by the EPA. The standards meet section 231 of the Clean Air Act (CAA) for six well-mixed GHGs. 

According to the document, the EPA does not project these standards reducing emissions. All aircraft manufactured in the U.S. will probably already meet the standards by 2028 because they will either re-certify as compliant or older models that are not compliant will go out of production before then. 

“For these reasons, the EPA is not projecting emission reductions associated with these GHG regulations,” the document states. “However, the EPA does note that consistency with the international standards will prevent backsliding by ensuring that all new type design and in-production airplanes are at least as efficient as today’s airplanes.” 

Annie Petsonk, International Counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, called the rules “do-nothing” and claimed they are inadequate because they fail to address the aircraft as a whole and instead just focus on the engine. 

“Moreover, EPA’s new rule fails to address the environmental injustice of high toxic and particulate pollution around airports, which disproportionately affects airport workers and local communities downwind,” Petsonk said in a statement. “An ambitious rule that addresses these disproportionate effects, and gives the industry flexibility to use the full panoply of measures – from better engine and aircraft design to light-weighting, to high-quality sustainable fuels, and limited high-quality carbon credits such as those already agreed to by the United States in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – can spur innovation across the sector, put people to work retrofitting today’s aircraft and producing better fuels and aircraft, and make real cuts in aviation pollution.”  

The Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit conservation organization, also released a statement criticizing the final rule. The Center said if the incoming Biden administration does not immediately replace the rule they will challenge it in court. 

“This rule is especially infuriating because there are effective ways for the aviation industry to modernize and decarbonize,” Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said in the statement. “What we desperately need are technology-forcing standards to get the industry on track.”

Airline groups and manufacturers applauded the rule as a commitment to addressing climate change. 

“With this final rule, the EPA has demonstrated America’s commitment to global action against climate change and ensured U.S. aircraft will meet the same standards as our competitors across the world,” David Silver, Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) Vice President of Civil Aviation, said in a statement. “Improving aircraft efficiency is a crucial part of the aviation industry’s plans to reduce CO2 emissions, and we look forward to working with the FAA to incorporate this standard into its aircraft certification requirements.” 

Aligning standards with ICAO was important because it ensures that U.S. manufacturers can produce one fleet which can fly globally. 

“In the absence of U.S. standards for implementing the ICAO Airplane CO2 Emission Standards, U.S. civil airplane manufacturers could be forced to seek CO2 emissions certification from an aviation certification authority of another country (not the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)) in order to market and operate their airplanes internationally,” the document states. “We anticipate U.S. manufacturers would be at a significant disadvantage if the U.S. failed to adopt standards that are harmonized with the ICAO standards for CO2 emissions.”

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