Top Cop Petitions U.S. EPA for Greenhouse Gas Limits on Aircraft

By Published On: December 7, 2007

Concerned that aircraft emissions are a sizable and growing cause of global warming, California Attorney General Jerry Brown December 5 asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases from planes. In a petition to EPA filed jointly with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Brown told the federal agency it had both the “duty” and “authority” to limit carbon dioxide, water vapor, and nitrogen oxides from aircraft under the federal Clean Air Act. “Aviation is a large and rapidly growing source of greenhouse gases and the EPA should have taken action by now to curb these emissions,” said Brown at a press conference at the Los Angeles International Airport. “Not to do so, ignores the tremendous opportunity for technological innovations that can increase efficiency and reduce emissions.” The Federal Aviation Administration projects a 60 percent increase in emissions from domestic air travel as passenger traffic climbs. Planes already account for three percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. In response to concern about greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, the Air Transport Association pointed out that by continually investing in more efficient planes U.S. airlines have trimmed fuel use by 5 percent since 2000. At the same time, passenger traffic has increased by 12 percent and cargo shipments have grown by 22 percent. Brown’s petition follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the justices found that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The decision cleared the way for EPA to grant a waiver under the Act to allow the state to enforce its landmark greenhouse gas emissions standards for autos set in 2004. Despite the ruling, EPA has yet to act on the state auto standards. California recently asked a federal court to order the agency to issue the waiver. The petition also follows a request by the state’s top attorney filed in October asking the federal agency to set limits on ocean-going ships, another significant source of greenhouse gases. Brown expressed special concern that aircraft emissions occur “at high altitudes–right where these emissions have a heightened negative impact.” The petition noted that nitrous oxides emitted at high altitudes form ozone more readily than at ground level, a pollutant the petition said exacerbates global warming. In addition, the water vapor emitted by jets–which fans out into contrails and cirrus clouds–is a powerful global warming agent. The clouds “exceed the radiative forcing potential of carbon dioxide from aircraft by three to four times.” Several other local and state governments and organizations joined in the petition, including New York City, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Mexico, the District of Columbia and environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth, the Center for Biological Diversity, Earth Justice, and Oceana. Editors’ note: For more details on California’s concerns about aircraft and ship emissions, please see our sister publication E=MC2, Energy Meets Climate Challenge, www.energymeetsclimate.com

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