Environmental Groups Petition EPA to Reconsider Position on Lead Aviation Gasoline

Last week, environmental groups Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Oregon Watch filed an administrative petition asking the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate lead emissions from aircraft. Friends of the Earth filed an earlier petition with the agency in 2006, but this petition was denied in 2012. The environmental groups then sued EPA (Friends of the Earth v. EPA, D.D.C., No. 12-363). As posted earlier, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that EPA has no mandatory duty under the Clean Air Act to find that lead emissions from general aviation gasoline cause or contribute to air pollution and endanger human health and the environment.

The environmental groups now ask EPA to reconsider its denial of the 2006 petition and issue an endangerment finding under the Clean Air Act. According to the petition, lead is a “dangerous neurotoxin” that causes a variety of health problems, especially in children. The petition also cites EPA’s own estimates that 16 million people reside and three million children attend school in close proximity to the approximately 20,000 airports where leaded aviation gasoline may be used.

As this issue progresses, please check back to this blog for updates.

Inclusion Date of Long-Haul Flight Under the EU-ETS Postponed Until 2017

As mentioned in the March 20, 2014 post, a deal to exempt intercontinental flights from regulation under the European Union's Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) until the end of 2016 failed in the European Parliament's Environment Committee. Many in the industry thought that this could be an indication of whether the proposed exemption could pass the full EU Parliament. Instead, the Parliament voted 458-120 to postpone the date of application of the EU-ETS to long-haul flights originating or arriving in the EU until 2017. As discussed in an earlier post on October 17, 2013, by 2017 the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) hopes to develop a market-based approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry through the use of technology, the adoption of carbon standards, and the utilization of sustainable alternatives to jet fuel.

It appears that this controversial issue is over and in the hands of ICAO, for now. As this issue progresses, please check back to this blog for future posts.

ETS Exemption Deal Rejected by Parliament's Environment Committee

A deal to exempt intercontinental flights from regulation under the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) until the end of 2016 failed March 19 in the European Parliament’s Environment Committee. This could be an indication of whether the proposed exemption can win enough support when the measure goes before the full EU Parliament early next month. If the measure fails, tensions may be reignited between the EU and major opponents of the inclusion of non-EU airlines, such as the United States, China, Russia, and India.  

As this issues progresses, please check back to this blog for future posts.

Market Based Approach to Reduce Worldwide Greenhouse Gas Emissions Approved by United Nation's Aviation Agency

After two weeks of negotiations, a deal was reached at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) meeting in Montreal. The assembly of nations agreed to develop a market based approach by 2016 to be implemented in 2020. This resolution encourages countries to create new aircraft technology, adopt carbon dioxide standards, and utilize sustainable alternatives to jet fuel. Further, the measure promotes the engagement of member states in talks about the design of new carbon markets and the implementation of existing programs. This resolution makes air transport the first major industry sector to have a global model in controlling greenhouse gas emissions. The air transport industry currently accounts for 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions with projections of higher emissions by 2050.

As discussed in this blog previously, the European Union has been a leader in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and a driving force behind ICAO’s decision to address emissions on a global scale. On October 16, the European Commission relaxed its own controversial emissions regulations which would have included all flights to, from, and between European Union airports in the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). A proposed directive by the European Commission to the member states and the European Parliament would require inclusion of only the portions of flights that take place in EU airspace to be included in the ETS. The directive would amend the ETS to include international flights by foreign airlines. Although not as burdensome as the original plan, it is possible that Indian, Chinese, Russian, and Unites States’ based airlines will still refuse to comply.

As this issue progresses, please check back to this blog for future posts.

Special thanks to Sullivan & Worcester’s Emma Spath, Environmental Intern, for assistance in preparing this post.

ICAO Council Compromises on International Aviation Emissions

Last week, the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a permanent body comprised of thirty-six ICAO members, met in Montreal to discuss international aviation emissions. This meeting proceeded the September 24 – October 4, 2013 meeting of the full ICAO membership. The Council agreed to a temporary framework that would allow regional emissions trading systems to regulate portions of flights in their airspace.  In contrast to the European Union’s (EU) earlier attempt to regulate the full distance of all flights taking off or landing in the EU, this new agreement would allow regulation only of the flight portion in EU airspace. This agreement fell short of what many had hoped for – the adoption of a global, market-based system to reduce carbon emissions. The Council did agree, however, that such a comprehensive international plan would be secured by 2020. The agreement still must be approved by the full ICAO membership later this month at the Assembly.

In the end, the agreement is a compromise between the EU, which desires stronger emissions standards, and countries such as the United States and China, who have pushed to find a global solution. Hopefully, the Council’s decision will keep the peace until a global management plan is developed.

 

As this issue progresses, please check back to this blog for future posts.

Report Pushes ICAO Towards Market-Based Measures to Address International Aviation Emissions

As we have previously discussed, the 38th Session of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Assembly is set for September 24 – October 4, 2013. On the agenda is how and when to address international aviation emissions. In preparation for this meeting and to provide information to policymakers, Manchester Metropolitan University’s Center for Aviation, Transport, and the Environment (CATE) released a report, Mitigating Future Aviation CO2 Emissions: Timing is Everything, on August 27, 2013. This paper concluded that market-based measures, rather than alternatives such as biofuels or efficiencies, are the most cost-effective methods of mitigating emissions and climate impacts. This is because market-based measures, such as carbon emissions trading, have the potential for immediate reductions in emissions while the world must wait for improved technologies. If such market-based measures can be successfully implemented by ICAO, it would avoid reinitiating the battle between the European Union (EU) and other countries over the regulation of all flights originating or landing in the EU by the Emissions Trading System (ETS).

The CATE report can be found here. As this issue progresses, please check back to this blog for future posts.

EPA Has No Mandatory Duty to Find that Lead Emissions from General Aviation Gasoline Cause or Contribute to Air Pollution

Recently, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held in Friends of the Earth v. EPA, D.D.C., No. 12-363, that the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has no mandatory duty under the Clean Air Act to find that lead emissions from general aviation gasoline cause or contribute to air pollution and endanger human health and the environment. In a previous post, we commented on the question before the Court - whether EPA has a mandatory or discretionary duty to make such a finding. Finding no mandatory duty, Judge Amy Berman Jackson granted the agency’s motion for summary judgment. The Court analyzed the language, structure, and purpose of the statute and the Court found nothing that defined the endangerment determination to be a nondiscretionary EPA duty.

This opinion is open to being appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. If so, please check back to this blog for updates.

ICAO Considering Global Carbon Emissions Offset Program that Requires Funding Emissions Reducing Projects

Late last month, executives gathered in London for the Aviation Carbon 2013 summit. A few themes developed from this summit.  Among the themes was that  any adopted carbon emissions offset program must show a verifiable difference to the health of the environment, and that any carbon emissions offset program must be simple to join.  Discussion also concentrated on the International Civil Aviation Organization's (“ICAO”) meeting in September 2013.  As we reported earlier in this blog, in November 2012 the European Union suspended the inclusion of the non-EU aircraft industry in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (“EU-ETS”) for one year until ICAO had an opportunity to develop a global consensus on a plan to reduce emissions.  The September meeting of ICAO's High-Level Group on International Aviation and Climate Change is that opportunity. 

The working group is reviewing at least three market-based mechanisms:  (No. 1) a carbon emissions offset program that requires the funding of projects that reduce carbon emissions; (No. 2) a carbon emissions offset program similar to that proposed in No. 1, but with an additional revenue mechanism, most likely a tax; and (No. 3) a global carbon emissions cap-and-trade system.  It has been reported by news outlets after the Aviation Carbon 2013 summit that the mechanism showing the most promise is No. 1, which will require participants to engage in carbon offset projects such as those that support renewable energy, promote reforestation, avoid deforestation, and boost energy efficiency.  If the working group fails to come to a consensus, then we could see a stand-off again between the EU and the non-EU aircraft industry on this controversial measure.

As this issue progresses, please check back to this blog for future posts.

European Helicopter Developer AgustaWestland Creates the World's First Fully Electric Tilt-Rotor Aircraft

In the face of a heightened focus on aircraft emissions reduction in the industry, electric-powered and hybrid aircraft, as well as aircraft that use biofuels, offer viable alternatives.  This blog has explored the development of the electric aircraft before in “Electric Aircraft May Soon be the Standard in the Business Aviation Industry.”  Recently, the development of electric aircraft took another step with the announcement that European helicopter maker AgustaWestland has built and flown the world’s first electric tilt-rotor aircraft.  

Named “Project Zero,” the aircraft employs two electric-powered rotors, one on each wing.  The rotors, which are located within the wingspan, can be rotated more than 90 degrees so that they can be used for lift-off and as propellers during normal flight.  This model is completely electric; however, AgustaWestland is considering a hybrid model that uses a diesel engine.  For more information, please visit AgustaWestland’s website.

Photo: AgustaWestland

Does EPA Have a Mandatory or Discretionary Duty to Issue an Endangerment Finding for Lead in Aviation Gasoline?

This blog has discussed the regulation of lead in aviation gasoline extensively. Due to the fact that the general aviation industry is the last remaining industry to use leaded fuel, aviation gasoline has become a focal point of discussion at the Environmental Protection Agency, in the general aviation industry, and amongst environmental NGOs. Below are some of the past posts regarding lead in aviation gasoline:

In the pending case, Friends of the Earth v. EPA, D.D.C., No. 12-363, the plaintiff environmental group is pushing EPA to issue a finding that leaded aviation gasoline endangers human health and the environment. Such a finding would require the agency to regulate lead. During a hearing last week on EPA’s motion for summary judgment, Judge Amy Berman Jackson told the parties that the question before the court was whether EPA has a mandatory or discretionary duty to make such a finding. Only if the agency has a mandatory duty could the court compel EPA to take action. Each side points to specific language in the Clean Air Act to argue that the agency does or does not have discretion.

Before this lawsuit, Friends of the Earth filed an administrative petition seeking to compel EPA to make the endangerment finding. Only after EPA denied the petition last year did the environmental group bring the suit. In denying the petition, EPA stated that it needed additional time to study lead emissions in the general aviation industry (petition denial can be found on EPA’s website here). Battling a limited amount of monitoring data to make its evaluation, EPA has been working to develop a robust model that can characterize the amount of lead in the ambient air at and around airports where piston-engine aircraft operate.

The industry is closely following this case and issue. So will this blog. Please check back for updates.