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EPA takes first steps toward regulating commercial aviation GHGs with endangerment finding under CAA

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to find under section 231(a) of the Clean Air Act that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from commercial aircraft engines endanger the health and welfare of Americans by contributing to climate change. At the same time, the agency issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) that provides information on the process for setting international CO2 emissions standards for aircraft at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and describes and seeks input on the potential use of section 231 of the Clean Air Act to adopt a corresponding standard domestically.

The finding applies to GHG emissions from engines used in US subsonic jet aircraft with a maximum takeoff mass (MTOM) greater than 5,700 kilograms and in subsonic propeller driven (e.g., turboprop) aircraft with a MTOM greater than 8,618 kilograms. Examples of covered aircraft would include smaller jet aircraft such as the Cessna Citation CJ2+ and the Embraer E170, up to and including the largest jet aircraft: the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747. Other examples of covered aircraft would include larger turboprop aircraft, such as the ATR 72 and the Bombardier Q400. The actions do not apply to small piston-engine planes or to military aircraft.

US aircraft emit roughly 11% of GHG emissions from the US transportation sector; 3% of total US GHG emissions; 29% of GHG emissions from all aircraft globally; and 0.5% of total global GHG emissions, according to the EPA.

The Administrator proposes to make this new finding for commercial aircraft specifically with respect to the same six well-mixed GHGs—carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride—that together were defined as the relevant air pollution in the 2009 Endangerment Finding for light-duty vehicles under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. Subsequent to that 2009 finding, EPA adopted GHG emission standards for motor vehicles under section 202 of the CAA.

EPA is seeking comments from all interested parties, including small businesses, on a variety of issues related to setting CO2 standards for aircraft, including:

  • The appropriate effective dates for the potential international CO2 standard.

  • The appropriate stringency levels for the CO2 standard.

  • Whether international standards should apply to new in-production aircraft as well as new aircraft types.

Background. For the past five years, ICAO—a specialized body of the United Nations with 191 member states—has been working with the aviation industry and other stakeholders to develop coordinated, international CO2 emissions standards for aircraft. EPA and the Federal Aviation Administration, representing the United States, are participating in ICAO’s process in an effort to ensure that resulting policies are equitable across national boundaries. The ICAO standards are expected to be adopted in early 2016. The items now issued by EPA lay the necessary foundation for the development and implementation of a domestic aircraft standard, in accordance with US law and the ICAO process.

The EPA has been engaged in reducing harmful air pollution from aircraft engines since 1973. Section 231 of the Clean Air Act directs the EPA to issue standards addressing aircraft engine pollutant emissions, if in the Administrator’s judgment they cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA consults with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as it develops aircraft engine emission standards, ensuring that any standards set do not adversely affect safety or increase noise. Section 232 of the Clean Air Act then requires that the FAA ensure compliance with the emissions standards set by the EPA.

The Administrator’s proposed findings come in response to a citizen petition submitted by Friends of the Earth, Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Earthjustice requesting that the EPA issue a GHG endangerment finding and standards under section 231(a) (2)(A) of the Act for GHG emissions from aircraft engines. This proposal and any final GHG endangerment and cause or contribute findings for aircraft engines are part of preparing for a possible subsequent domestic rulemaking process to adopt the corresponding international aircraft CO2 emissions standard under CAA section 231.

Once this action is published in the Federal Register, it will be open for a 60-day public comment period. Any future domestic actions toward aircraft engine standards would also be open to public comment and review before they could take effect.




Aircraft industries need well established goals to further reduce the GHG footprint of all commercial planes produced by 50% or so by 2030/2040.

Small planes could be partially or fully electrified to meet the same goals.

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