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October 19, 2020
Contact: Stephen Read

State AGs Push EPA to Go Beyond ‘Feeble, Already-Obsolete’ Greenhouse Gas Standards for Airplanes

Coalition calls for meaningful controls on climate-warming pollution from aviation, 'the single largest unregulated GHG emissions source' in the domestic transportation sector.

Washington, D.C. — A coalition of 12 attorneys general led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra submitted comments today in opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to establish hollow greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for airplanes that would result in no actual emissions reductions.
The EPA’s proposal mirrors a set of standards developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2016, which “were set to such a low stringency level that all aircraft currently in development or in production would already comply.” The attorneys general warn that the proposal “is an empty exercise that substitutes feeble, already-obsolete standards for the critically needed regulation Congress intended.”
“If we hope to leave behind a habitable planet for the next generation, we must tackle the climate crisis head on,” said AG Becerra. “The aviation industry is a significant source of global emissions. But this sham proposal to regulate it is the equivalent of doing nothing. We call on the EPA to do its job and present real options to reduce emissions from this sector.”
“The EPA’s proposal is a one-way ticket to higher emissions and worsening climate turbulence,” said David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. “The EPA has a real opportunity here to adopt ambitious but achievable standards that would spur innovation and drive much-needed emissions reductions. Instead, the administration is pursuing empty standards that its own analysis confirms will do absolutely nothing to reduce the aviation sector’s significant and growing climate impact.”
Emissions Context — Transportation is the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and aviation accounts for at least 12% of the sector’s overall emissions. According to the EPA itself, “GHG emissions from U.S. aircraft alone rank higher than total GHG emissions from more than 150 entire countries.” U.S. aircraft are responsible for more than one-quarter of global aviation emissions, and emissions from aircraft covered by the EPA’s proposal are “projected to grow by 43 percent over the next two decades.” The EPA’s proposed standards would “merely slow down the massive increase in aviation sector emissions projected through 2040,” and would do nothing to “‘bend the curve’ down toward carbon-neutrality, which is necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change.”
Regulatory Context — Section 231 of the Clean Air Act “authorizes and directs EPA to issue appropriate emission standards for dangerous pollution from aircraft engines,” and past agency practice “affirms EPA’s statutory duty to base aircraft standards on a forward-looking evaluation of air quality needs and technological feasibility.” If the EPA moves forward by simply mirroring the ICAO’s “back of the pack” fuel efficiency standard — a standard “so lax that even the worst performing aircraft fleets would meet it” — the agency “would fail to exercise the discretion Congress invested in it and fail its mandate to reduce pollution to the full extent practicable and necessary.” The EPA “ignored a host of technically feasible options with the potential to curb aircraft GHG emissions,” including weight-reducing technologies, alternative fuels with lower carbon intensity than conventional jet fuel, and changes to ground operations, air traffic control and flight routes.
Federalism Context — The attorneys general emphasize that their states have made significant efforts to address aviation’s climate impacts by reducing and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions from airports, but are preempted under the Clean Air Act from establishing their own emissions standards for aircraft. States are “dependent on EPA to adopt federal standards to reduce emissions, protect the health and welfare of their residents, and avoid damage to their economies,” and “face imminent harm from EPA’s failure to act more aggressively.”
The attorneys general of Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C., along with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) joined AG Becerra in submitting the comments.


About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advocate for clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. For more information, visit our website