EPA sets stage for regulating airplane emissions

EPA sets stage for regulating airplane emissions
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Regulators have formally concluded greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes pose a threat the environment, the first step toward new federal rules. 

The moved, called an “endangerment finding,” from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires officials to write new rules limiting pollution from airplanes, something environmental activists have long called for and a measure the Obama administration teed up last year. 

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The endangerment finding, released on Monday, concludes that greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes “endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations.” The finding covers 89 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from large aircraft in the United States, but doesn’t cover small turboprop or recreational planes, helicopters or military aircraft, the agency said. 

Aircraft account for 3 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and U.S. aircraft produce 0.5 percent of emissions worldwide. 

Airplanes are the largest source of emissions not currently regulated by the EPA, but officials with the agency said last June they wanted to change that. The endangerment finding is the first step toward new regulations; a final rule, they said last year, isn’t likely until 2018.  

The EPA said that any potential rule on airplane emissions will be “at least as stringent” as those finalized by a United Nations aviation panel in February. That rule, set to take effect next year, would limit carbon dioxide emissions from all new airplanes built after 2028. 

Republicans have resisted the regulations, and environmentalists have pushed the agency to go beyond those proposed by United Nations board. 

Monday’s endangerment finding doesn’t set reduction standards or estimate compliance costs, but is rather the first step toward future regulations on emissions. It’s similar to the finding released in 2009 for greenhouse gas emissions from cars, trucks and power plants, all of which the agency has regulated. 

“Aircraft are the third largest contributor to [greenhouse gas] emissions in the U.S. transportation sector, and these emissions are expected to increase in the future,” Janet McCabe,the acting assistant administrator at the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said in a statement. 

“EPA has already set effective [greenhouse gas] standards for cars and trucks and any future aircraft engine standards will also provide important climate and public health benefits.”