At a April 2, 2008, hearing entitled "From the Wright Brothers to the Right Solutions:  Curbing Soaring Aviation Emissions," the EPA indicated its plans to release an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) soon to solicit comments regarding curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from aircraft engines.  Robert Meyers, principal deputy assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, testified before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming that the agency had received petitions urging EPA to determine that aircraft emissions cause or contribute to air pollution and endanger public health. The petitions further urge EPA to adopt regulations to control emissions.  The FAA also presented its thought at the Hearing.  Daniel K. Elwell, Assistant Administrator, Office of Aviation Policy, Planning and Environment, testified that the FAA believed that strides were already being made toward reducing GHG emitted from aircraft and counseled patience, since aircraft emissions account for only 3% of GHG in the United States.

Also testifying were:

Five environmentalist groups, Friends of the Earth, Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice, jointly submitted a petition in December seeking the curbs on aircraft engine emissions.  The bases for the petition were:

  1. aircraft engines “represent an increasing and potent source of greenhouse gas emissions due in part to the unprecedented growth in air travel;”
  2. aircraft in the U.S. are responsible for almost half the carbon dioxide emitted from aircraft worldwide;
  3. “Recent reports show that at altitude, aircraft emissions have a greater impact on global warming than previously understood.” 

Meyers acknowledged at the hearing that aircraft contribute about 10 percent of GHG emissions in the U.S. transportation sector and 3 percent of all GHG emissions in the U.S. Meyers also pointed to other compounds “indirectly related” to climate change such as nitrogen, water vapor and aerosols. “U.S. aviation emissions have declined in recent years, but due to the expected increase in air traffic and lead times for technology change, it could prove challenging to continue this declining trend,” he said.

EPA has historically followed the approach of the International Civil Aviation Organization, he said, adding that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld this approach as reasonable. Meyers also said international consistency is beneficial as well since aircraft and aircraft engines are international commodities.

Noting that there has been “considerable study” of GHG emissions from aviation, Meyers said the ANPRM is the “next step in our process.” EPA will solicit public comment on potential technological controls for aircraft and engines and operational measures to reduce emissions. EPA also will seek specifics on what is feasible near- and long-term and on relevant cost and safety information. EPA said it planned to coordinate with FAA in response to the petitions.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the select committee, warned that the panel “cannot let aviation fly under the radar. The impact of these emissions cannot be ignored.” Markey noted that aviation has reduced emissions through technology, but said he also believes the growing number of flights will increase emissions. “Aviation must answer for the heat-trappings of their own success,” Markey said.

He pointed to petitions from various organizations asking EPA to regulate aviation GHG emissions, and said Congress already is considering a cap and trade system. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) have introduced such legislation, which would tax fuel at the producer level. Markey also noted environmental efforts in Europe and said, “As local governments and other nations move to limit the impact of aviation on the environment, Congress cannot linger in a holding pattern.”

Meyers, however, expressed concern about European caps and trade proposals. The European Commission proposed to include carbon dioxide emissions in the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme for commercial flights arriving or departing European Union airports, including U.S.-registered aircraft. The proposal would cap carbon dioxide emissions at the average emission levels between 2004-2006. The proposal would exclude flights from non-European Union countries that have equivalent GHG mitigation measures in place.

“The U.S. and other nations have expressed serious concern about the legality of the proposed EU legislation in the context of both the Chicago Convention of 1944, which established the International Civil Aviation Organization, and bilateral air services agreements,” he said.

FAA shares these concerns, said Daniel Elwell, assistant administrator of FAA’s Office of Aviation Policy, Planning and Environment. “There appears to be a disconnect between perception and performance on aviation emissions, at least in the U.S.,” he said, adding, “In some quarters there is a perception that aviation greenhouse gas emissions are growing out of control and that it needs to be reigned in by emissions caps and taxes.” But carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. have declined by 4 percent between 2000 and 2006 while emissions in Europe have increased by 30 percent during the same period. Commercial jet aircraft fuel efficiency has improved by 70 percent in the last 40 years, Elwell said.

He pointed to efforts to improve technology and accelerate air traffic management improvements as keys in helping to lower emissions. Alternative fuels also will play a role, he said, as could market-based measures, such as tax incentives, emissions trading or carbon offsets.

Steve Brown, senior vice president, operations and administration for the National Business Aviation Association, also expressed concerns about European efforts, particularly because he said the EU is taking a punitive approach rather than acknowledging the strides aviation has made in becoming more environmental friendly. The aviation industry is keeping an eye on the Lieberman-Warner bill since it ultimately could mean increased costs for operators. Air Transport Association President and CEO James May also called the Lieberman-Warner bill punitive, estimating that it could cost airlines $5 billion through 2012