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.

Rep. Henry Waxman Urges FAA to Immediately Address Lead in Aviation Gasoline

As mentioned in an earlier posts, "Industry-Government Task Force Report Sheds Light on Future of Aviation Gasoline," "Environmental Advocacy Group Sues EPA to Regulate Emissions from Aviation Gasoline," and "EPA Sets Its Regulatory Cross Hairs on Lead Aviation Fuel," leaded aviation gasoline, or avgas, remains a concern in the general aviation sector.

A joint industry-government task force is currently tackling the problem, and in a June 2012 report stated that the goal of the task force is to advance unleaded aviation gasoline by 2018.  However, this timetable is too long for some, including Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D. Calif.). In a recent letter to Federal Aviation Administration Acting Administrator, Michael Huerta, Rep. Waxman asked the agency to promote the use of unleaded alternatives for piston engine aircraft that are available today.

In the letter, Rep. Waxman noted the detrimental health effects of lead and that general aviation fuel accounts for half of all lead emissions in the United States. These effects are exacerbated by the fact that many of the smaller aircraft that use leaded gasoline fly out of airports near densely-populated areas.

A press release from Rep. Waxman’s office can be found here. As this issue progresses, please check back to this blog for future posts.

Industry-Government Task Force Report Sheds Light on Future of Aviation Gasoline

As mentioned in earlier posts, “Environmental Advocacy Group Sues EPA to Regulate Emissions from Aviation Gasoline” and “EPA Sets Its Regulatory Cross Hairs on Leaded Aviation Fuel,” leaded aviation gasoline, or avgas, is a concern in the general aviation industry. Lately, the issue has garnered more attention as the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) examines possible regulation of lead emissions from aircrafts.  

Not much progress has been made to develop an alternative fuel to 100 octane low-lead (100LL), mainly due to the ready availability of the current fuel, a lack of regulation, and the technical infeasibility of developing a single “drop-in” alternative fuel that can be deployed across the entire industry. Aviation industry leaders realize, however, that steps forward must be taken if the industry wants to avoid future regulation.

Last week, the Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee (“UAT ARC”) released a final report detailing how to incentivize and facilitate the certification of an alternative aviation fuel to 100LL. Formed in 2011 by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”); the ARC is a joint industry-government task force with a goal of advancing unleaded aviation gasoline by 2018. Members on the industry side include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (“AOPA”), the Experimental Aircraft Association (“EAA”), the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (“GAMA”), the National Air Transportation Association (“NATA”), and the National Business Aviation Association (“NBAA”). The government stakeholders are FAA and EPA.

Collaboratively, this task force has worked to ensure the continued availability of aviation gasoline in an unleaded form. According to FAA’s press release, the ARC’s report outlines five key recommendations. These are:

  1. Implement a fuel development roadmap for avgas readiness levels that identifies milestones in the aviation gasoline development process.
  2. Establish centralized testing of candidate unleaded fuels which would generate standardized qualification and certification data.
  3. Establish a solicitation and selection process for candidate unleaded aviation gasolines for the centralized testing program.
  4. Establish a centralized certification office to support unleaded aviation gasoline projects.
  5. Establish a collaborative industry- government initiative called the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI) to implement the UAT ARC recommendations to facilitate the development and deployment of an unleaded avgas with the least impact on the existing piston-engine aircraft fleet.

More details concerning these primary recommendations can be found in the final report, which can be found on FAA’s website. Press releases discussing the report were also posted by AOPA and NBAA

The participation of EPA is essential to the success of this framework. EPA has been pressured with litigation to promulgate regulations to eliminate or significantly reduce lead emissions. If FAA and industry groups can address the issues and recommendations outlined in the final report in a timely fashion and in a manner that is amenable to both the environment and industry, EPA will not have to take steps to regulate.

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

Aviation Industry Considers the Use of More Biofuels to Cut Emissions and Reduce Costs

As reported in earlier posts, non-European Union airlines may soon be subject to the EU Emissions Trading System (“ETS”). As airlines face pressure to reduce carbon emissions and to cut their $200 billion annual fuel bill, many are weighing the advantages of using more aviation biofuels, in addition to employing improved fuel efficient designs and materials. Yesterday, United Airlines made the first domestic commercial flight from Houston, Texas to Chicago, Illinois powered by a biofuel blend from San-Francisco based Solazyme, Inc., which is 60 percent traditional jet fuel and 40 percent algae-based biofuel. In addition, on Wednesday, Alaska Airlines plans to begin 75 regular passenger flights from Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon and to Washington, D.C. fueled by a 20 percent biofuel blend made from used cooking oil. (Chicago Tribune)  

Last month, another airline announced its plans to fly its passengers on a waste gas-based fuel by 2014, thus cutting its carbon footprint in half. Virgin Atlantic Airways plans to be the first airline to use waste gas from industrial steel production to move well beyond its initial pledge of a 30 percent carbon reduction per passenger by 2020. Virgin is a pioneer in this area, flying a Boeing 747 from London to Amsterdam in 2008 on a mixture of babassu oil and coconut oil and stands to be a leader moving forward. (Environmental Leader)   

Biofuels, however, are not without critics, as biofuels often are produced from first-generation edible crops or from plants that consume arable land that would have otherwise been used for edible crops. To solve this dilemma, the aviation industry is turning to other plant sources that grow in arid conditions as well as municipal organic waste to convert into aviation fuel.

Commercial airlines are certainly moving toward taking advantage of biofuels. It is only a matter of time before business and corporate aircrafts follow. As this issue progresses please check back to this blog for future posts.