The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday finalized a first-ever regulation to limit airline emissions, though it said it did not expect it to actually reduce emissions. 

The rule adopts the 2017 emissions standards from the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations’s top aviation authority, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new aircraft by 4 percent over 12 years.

But both critics and the EPA found the standards would do little to improve emissions as they mirror advancements the industry is already making.

“EPA is not projecting emission reductions associated with today’s proposed GHG regulations,” the agency wrote in the rule.

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and pollution from air travel is currently responsible for 9 percent of transportation emissions. However, it is also one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, rising by 44 percent in the U.S. over the past 10 years.

“This rule is especially infuriating because there are effective ways for the aviation industry to modernize and decarbonize,” Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said in a release. “What we desperately need are technology-forcing standards to get the industry on track.”

Her group has pushed for airlines to improve fuel efficiency by 3.5 percent each year until the industry is able to electrify their fleet.

Some Democratic senators have called for more stringent emissions caps on airlines as part of the relief included for pandemic-disrupted airlines in recovery packages, but no provisions have been included in any of the legislation.

“This do-nothing rule is totally inadequate in light of the climate crisis,” Annie Petsonk, international counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a release. “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.”

Airlines for America, the industry’s lobby, praised the EPA for adopting the international standards.

The standard takes into account safety, technological feasibility and environmental benefit and will further enable U.S. airlines to meet the industry’s goals of achieving carbon neutral growth in the near term and cutting net carbon emissions in half in 2050 relative to 2005 levels.

The EPA called the rule precedent-setting as the administration is the first to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, part of a “pragmatic approach to climate action [that] has produced meaningful results without unnecessarily sacrificing American jobs.”

Updated at 4:15 p.m.

Tags Airlines Environmental Protection Agency Greenhouse gas emissions
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