Aviation Emissions Investigation Requested

 - February 8, 2008, 10:33 AM

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, wants to know whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has plans to regulate heat-trapping global warming emissions from America’s aviation sector.

“The EPA has a clear role to play in protecting Americans from the worst impacts of heat-trapping emissions that cause global warming,” Markey said in a January 8 letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. “When it comes to the contribution of jet aviation to the looming threat of a climate catastrophe, the Bush Administration’s attempts to fly under the radar have increasingly become a flight from reality.”

The chairman’s letter asked the EPA if it supports regulating the emissions of greenhouse gases from aircraft; if it had a role in the Administration’s threat of legal action against the European Union should the EU seek to enforce a cap on the emissions of greenhouse gases from aviation; if it provided any advice to the FAA regarding the regulation of CO2 and other emissions from commercial aviation; and if it has determined whether CO2 emissions cause or contribute to pollution that may reasonably be anticipated to be a danger to human health and welfare.

Markey sent a similar letter to the FAA last fall, expressing concern about reports that NextGen “has yet to make aviation’s contribution to global warming a major priority.” Acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell replied to the letter in October, assuring Markey, “NextGen is developing a systematic and comprehensive approach to mitigating the impacts of aviation on the environment, including those from greenhouse gases.”

Last April, the Supreme Court affirmed the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases and its obligation to protect the public health and welfare from the effects of global warming.

Unfortunately, according to Markey, “The Bush Administration has taken no action to regulate global warming emissions.”

On December 5, the EPA received a petition from environmental organizations and the states of California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico and Pennsylvania and the city of New York that demands that the agency use its authority under the Clean Air Act to propose and adopt regulations setting emissions standards to limit pollutants from aircraft.

A spokesman for the EPA said the agency will address the issue after it has completely reviewed the new energy bill. President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act on December 19. Under the new legislation 36 billion gallons of gasoline are to be replaced with biofuel by 2022. “We need to determine how the energy bill will affect our regulatory options as we proceed with our proposal to address greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “Right now we’re in the analytical stage, trying to find out how the new legislation affects the work we’re doing.”

Ministers from the EU’s 27 member states have agreed to include aviation in the EU’s CO2 cap-and-trade scheme. On November 13, the European Parliament voted to proceed with a proposal to impose a cap on CO2 emissions for nearly all airplanes arriving at or departing from EU airports while allowing airlines to buy and sell “pollution credits” on the EU carbon market. The plan excludes military flights and airplanes weighing less than 44,000 pounds.

Markey addressed this legislation in his letter to the agency. “While the European Union’s 27 member states have now agreed to include aviation in the EU’s carbon dioxide cap-and-trade scheme, the Bush Administration has threatened to take legal action against the EU should it seek to enforce a cap on aviation emissions,” he wrote.

Markey’s spokesman said the chairman does not want to “single out” any one industry, but he said there needs to be more collaboration between the U.S. and EU because of the strong economic ties between the two. “The way that we get back and forth between these two vast economies is no longer on the QE2. It’s on a [Boeing] 747. That means that we should be cooperating to look for ways to cut emissions, not blocking progress on cutting emissions.”

In his letter to the EPA, Markey noted that aviation was responsible for approximately 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2005. “Since heat-trapping emissions from aviation-related sources are expected to increase threefold in the next 20 years, it is imperative that this nation find ways to reduce such emissions,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, the EPA is seeking public comment on a 2006 petition from the Friends of the Earth asking the agency to make a finding that lead emissions from general aviation aircraft endanger public health and welfare and to issue emission standards. The comment period ends March 17.

GA industry groups met with the EPA and the FAA in November to discuss the petition, the state of the GA industry, concerns about transitioning from current avgas and associated safety-of-flight implications, and the current lack of an unleaded fuel that will work for the entire GA fleet.

“Replacing today’s avgas with a new fuel is a critical issue and must be carefully thought through by the agencies involved,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive v-p of government affairs. “Right now there isn’t an unleaded fuel that would meet the needs of the entire fleet without requiring aircraft modifications or decreasing aircraft performance and utility.”

The EPA and the FAA have specific roles regarding aviation. The Clean Air Act allows the EPA to make findings regarding air pollution emissions from aircraft and set standards regulating such emissions. The FAA has the authority to regulate the fuel used in aircraft. 

Keeping an Eye on Carbon Trading
In a related development, the Federal Trade ommission (FTC) last month held its first hearing on “green marketing,” focusing on carbon offsets. The agency, which regulates advertising claims, has not updated its environmental advertising guidelines since 1998. It is asking for comments on how to bring its guidelines up to date and is investigating how carbon-offset programs work.

Ten years ago, it did not define such terms as renewable energy, carbon offsets and sustainability. Deborah Platt Majoras, chairman of the FTC, said that programs such as carbon offsets present “a heightened potential for deception.”

Participants in carbon-offset programs are in essence paying for emissions reductions efforts elsewhere to compensate for not reducing their own emissions. Some claim that those buying carbon offsets are only building their public image while continuing to do business as usual.

The commission said it is growing increasingly concerned that some “green marketing” claims are unsubstantiated. Panelists at the hearing questioned the certifications behind such claims.

Jennifer Harrington contributed to this article.