The EPA’s pending ‘endangerment finding’ that planes emit sufficient greenhouse gases to contribute to global warming and thus endanger health is something that’s been in the works at least since 2010 and won’t take anyone by surprise.
It’s also likely not to much matter for US airlines, and regulations they ultimate issue are likely to be met by the vast majority of commercial aircraft already.
US airlines have actually been lobbying for some form of regulation, as a means to stave off more stringent rules that environmental lobbyists want. They expect that the world is moving towards regulation anyway, they might as well get ahead of the curve, and just don’t want to be more heavily regulated than their competitors.
The E.P.A.’s finding would lay the groundwork for the United States to adopt the emissions standard being negotiated by the International Civil Aviation Organization. That group aims by next year to set new emissions standards for airlines, which have said that national rules would do little to curb emissions, given the industry’s global reach.
…“As aviation is a global industry, with airlines and aircraft operators operating internationally and aircraft manufacturers selling their aircraft in international markets, it is critical that aircraft emissions standards continue to be agreed at the international level,” said Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade group. “Any regulatory action E.P.A. takes must be consistent with both the agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act, as well as the expected I.C.A.O. standard.”
It’s generally older and less fuel efficient aircraft that are cheaper for startup discount airlines to buy and if they can use environmental rules to shut out new competitors then from their perspective so much the better.
Aviation is called “the fastest-growing cause of climate change” but that’s largely in China and to a lesser extent India, which the EPA doesn’t touch.
Chinese domestic flights have grown more than 20-fold over the past two decades. Boeing has predicted that China will need 200,000 more pilots and over 12,000 more planes over the next two decades.
On the other hand the number of aircraft and flights in the US isn’t growing substantially. At American Airlines, for instance, they’re retiring old MD80s and replacing them with more modern aircraft, and the largest driver of capacity growth over the past year has been adding more seats into existing planes.
A low end estimate suggests that commercial aircraft have become about 70% more fuel efficient over the past five decades and continue to become even more so — and have done that even without EPA requirements that are likely to enshrine in rule what already exists. A more aggressive estimate suggests even more progress has been made:
The industry, which she said accounts for 2 percent of U.S. manmade greenhouse gas emissions, has improved fuel efficiency 120 percent between 1978 and 2014, “saving 3.8 billion metric tons” of carbon dioxide emissions. That is nearly the equivalent of removing 23 million cars from the roads in each of those years.
The EPA’s proposed endangerment finding will take a year to finalize, and actual implemention of regulations will take even longer (not least of which because there will be court challenges).
Ultimately it’s likely to be more symbolic than substantive, requiring that airlines and aircraft manufacturers do what they’ve already done and continue to do what they’re already doing. As with most environmental issues, whether or not progress is made is likely to depend far more on China than the U.S.