EPA sends the White House its recommendations on aviation emissions; the Debate escalates.

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A critical document has been sent from EPA to the White House. The agency recommendations are now under pre-publication review there. A critical determination by the environmental protector might include a statutory finding that aircraft pollution causes or contributes to air pollution that may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. Once finalized, the paper would begin a cascade of regulatory actions which are likely to dramatically impact aviation, domestically and internationally.

First, an affirmative finding of Green House Gases from aircraft in this draft would trigger EPA’s regulation of those emissions by airlines. What requirements, that the agency intends to impose, are included in the document lodged at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. They might involve an Emission Trading System, favored by the EU, or some other mechanism intended to limit GHG. Any proposal would solicit comments from the public through a long timeline.

In the immediate term, the NPRM and/or a final rule likely will incur attention, or even the wrath, of Congress. Chairman Shuster has already made it clear that he is skeptical of ETS as a solution. Both A4A and AIA would prefer to rely on technical and developmental solutions (greener engines, NextGen, biofuels, etc.) rather than any “government created” market. The rate of introduction of greener equipment and the schedule by which NextGen will deliver environmental benefits will be the subject of debate.

The green side roster is filled with heavyweights–Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, etc. In fact, it was litigation brought by these groups which “flushed” this document out of EPA.

The regulatory and legislative processes will include long rosters of experts on both sides of the GHG issue and involve a massive debate on Capitol Hill. Judicial review is almost guaranteed based on the past litigation. The time horizon for resolution in all of these forums is hard to forecast.

A third locus for the GHG debate will be Montreal and the International Civil Aviation Organization. Once the US has decided on its preferred solution (or perhaps even before that milestone), this collection of all “aviation” governments, the full range from highly developed domestic aero industries to not-so- sophisticated local aviation entities,will consider the options. Practically, a global consensus must be reached in order to have worldwide benefits.

This august United Nations body has already spent substantial time studying the GHG and ETS issues and those efforts continue today. However, ICAO is a deliberative body and its past efforts to agree to environmental rules, which be applicable over the range of the countries, have not been successful. ICAO did, however, use its powers of persuasion to back down the European Union on its proposal to unilaterally impose its ETS rules internally within the Union and externally as the flights travel to points within its jurisdiction. The gestation period of ICAO is usually quite slow.

The EPA transmission of its proposal to the White House signals a major milestone for all involved in the GHG issue. It will command the aviation industry’s attention for the next few years.

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