On December 23, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator signed EPA’s Rule on Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Aircraft. While that rule acknowledges the dangers to public health and the environment posed by aviation’s global warming pollution, by EPA’s own admission, it does nothing to reduce emissions from this key sector.
EPA’s promulgation of a final rule on aircraft greenhouse gas emissions recognizes that it’s essential to look at the entire aircraft, not just the engine, since the structure, operation, and fuel characteristics are all important determinants of aviation pollution. However, this do-nothing rule is totally inadequate in light of the climate crisis. It’s incumbent on the incoming Biden-Harris administration to move swiftly to tighten this standard.
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. 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 pandemic has dealt airlines and their workers a gut-punch. That the EPA’s rule is being finalized concomitantly with Congress issuing another multi-billion-dollar COVID-19 rescue package for airlines with no enforceable requirements for airlines to improve their environmental performance underscores the need for swift regulatory action by the next administration so that airlines put climate at the core of their recovery and build back better. A return to business-as-usual aviation pollution growth will only jeopardize further those aviation jobs that the American taxpayer is now committed to protecting, as other nations and competitors sprint ahead in the race to make aviation more sustainable.