Does EPA's New Finding on Airplane Emissions Clear the United States for Takeoff on Climate Change Standards?

Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposed finding that linked airplane emissions to climate change and adverse public health effects, setting the stage for future standards on aircraft emissions. In the past few years, the EPA has moved forward with regulating greenhouse gases from electricity and transportation, which make up 60 percent of all climate change pollution in the U.S. Will it push one more rule through?   

Airplanes make up eight percent of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. This may not sound like a lot, but it adds up quickly, especially when combined with climate change pollution from cars, trucks, and other vehicles.

EPA has taken action against climate change pollution in other areas, and its efforts are already meeting with success.  

If EPA takes action and helps airlines reduce their pollution, the agency will have tackled more than 90 percent of greenhouse gas emission sources in the transportation sector. Here are some of the other areas where EPA has already taken action:

  • Cars and light trucks account for about three-fifths of greenhouse gases emitted in the transportation sector. In 2010 and 2012, EPA set emission standards for new vehicles that grow more stringent each year and are tougher for larger vehicles. Manufacturers meet these standards by improving fuel economy and taking other measures to increase energy efficiency. These standards are expected to reduce light-duty vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by around 20 percent by 2030 and will reduce lifetime vehicle emissions by six billion metric tons – all while saving drivers thousands of dollars at the pump.
  • Heavy-duty trucks produce roughly 22 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. EPA recently announced standards that require manufacturers to improve the fuel economy of heavy-duty trucks by 24 percent by 2027. This move will also reduce fuel costs by $170 billion over vehicle lifetimes. Under the new standards, a tractor-trailer that currently averages five to six miles per gallon would eventually average around nine miles per gallon.
  • The biggest move will come in August when EPA is expected to finalize the highly anticipated Clean Power Plan Rule. Coal-burning power plants alone make up a staggering 77 percent of total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the electricity sector. The proposed rules would reduce CO2 emissions at coal-burning and other power plants by 25 percent by 2020 and by 30 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

How does this work fit into international efforts to combat climate change?

The U.S. is the second largest global emitter of CO2, so any actions we take will have significant impacts far beyond our borders.

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty designed to decrease global CO2 emissions, was introduced at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Only two nations – Andorra and the United States – failed to ratify the treaty. Andorra, with a population of 80,000, emitted 517 kilotons (kt) of CO2 in 2010; the U.S. emitted eleven thousand times as much that same year.

Now 18 years later, the nations of the world will convene this December in Paris to negotiate legally binding measures to mitigate the effects of climate change. Thirty-nine nations, including the U.S. and Andorra, have announced emission reduction goals that would aid in preventing global warming from exceeding an increase of two degrees Celsius by the end of the century. The U.S. intends to cut emissions by 28 percent by 2025 (based on 2005 levels), and reducing climate change pollution from aircraft, cars, trucks, and other vehicles will have to be part of those efforts in order to be successful.

As EPA recently noted in a new report, the benefits for Americans would be immense. They would include:

  • 57,000 American lives saved due to cleaner air by 2100
  • 12,000 lives saved in 49 major American cities due to decrease of extreme heat by 2100
  • $6.6-$11 billion saved from damage to crops
  • $3.1 billion coastal property damage saved from sea level rise and storm surge

The need for action on climate change is dire, and Congress has to stop obstructing progress.

2015 is on track to be the hottest year globally since recordkeeping began, and despite overheated, misleading rhetoric to the contrary, climate change shows no signs of stopping. Despite this, the Obama administration is already facing strong opposition from industry and its allies in Congress, including planned budget cuts that could severely impact the EPA's ability to develop and implement new greenhouse gas rules.

This is irresponsible and short-sighted. We need these safeguards in place if the U.S. is to be a credible partner at the Paris negotiations and to lead the world away from a climate cataclysm. The potential airplane standards are a small but essential piece of this effort.

Photo by flickr user Pieter van Marion, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Good read!
excellent chad hatten