EPA proposes mild first-ever aircraft emissions standards

EPA proposes mild first-ever aircraft emissions standards
© Greg Nash

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday proposed new regulations to hinder emissions from air travel, prompting criticism the agency is codifying standards many aircraft makers have already met.

The proposal from the EPA would adopt 2017 emissions standards from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), 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 proposal.

EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: EPA to reconsider Trump decision not to tighten soot standards | Interior proposes withdrawal of Trump rule that would allow drillers to pay less | EPA reverses Trump guidance it said weakened 'forever chemicals' regulations EPA to reconsider Trump decision not to tighten soot air quality standards EPA to revise Trump rule limiting state authority to block pipelines MORE said he thought the standards would withstand legal scrutiny better than some previous EPA policies.

“This proposal today is really based upon the technology and where this technology is today,” he said.

Those comments angered environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, which previously threatened to sue the agency if it did not set standards as required by an earlier ruling under the Obama administration.

“They are literally just anti-backsliding provisions. They don't require anyone to improve, they just say, ‘When doing stuff don't make it worse,’” Clare Lakewood, climate legal director for the center, said of the standards, which she described as “technology following rather than technology forcing.”

“It’s really smoke and mirrors. They get the credit for having done something when this rule is not worth the paper it's written on when it comes to protecting us from greenhouse gas emissions," she added.


An analysis from the International Council on Clean Transportation found that most airlines in the United States, covering more than three-quarters of aviation demand, already meet the ICAO standards.

Air travel is a notable contributor to climate change.

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.

Prior to the travel pattern changes due to the coronavirus, the airline industry was considered one of the fastest-growing sectors with greenhouse gas emissions.

If the EPA's standards are finalized the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) will adopt its own set of new rules to comply with the regulation. The regulations would apply to any aircraft designed after January 2020 and all aircraft in production by 2028. Aircraft currently in use would not be affected.

“We do believe the new future aircraft will be lower than today, in part because of market forces,” a senior EPA official said on a call with reporters Wednesday morning.

“But we don't specifically attribute it to the proposed standards.”

--Updated at 11:40 a.m.