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.

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.

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.

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.

EPA Sets Its Regulatory Cross Hairs on Leaded Aviation Fuel

Avgas (aviation gasoline), the last type of leaded fuel available on the U.S. market, has recently drawn the scrutiny of EPA. Although it makes up only a tenth of 1 percent of the liquid fuel sold in the U.S., it is the life blood of smaller piston-engine aircrafts. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, EPA used its authority under the Clean Air Act to push for the removal of lead from automobile gasoline and today this move is considered one of the greatest environmental achievements of all time. However, Avgas and racing fuel were spared EPA regulation mainly because of their relative small impact and limited use. Racing fuel switched to a customized blend of high-octane gasoline in 2008 and it appears that EPA has now taken notice of Avgas.

Later this year, air quality monitors will be installed at 15 airports to gather data on lead pollution and to aid EPA in making a determination on whether Avgas is exposing people to dangerous amounts of lead. EPA’s move comes as a result of a lawsuit from the environmental group Friends of the Earth. Scientific studies have shown that aircraft emissions contributed to lead in children’s blood, particularly those living close to airports.

The Federal Aviation Administration has assembled the Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee to plan for the potential transition away from Avgas, but the same problem that has kept Avgas around in the first place has yet to be solved. The problem being that no suitable replacement exists. Lead helps protect engines, a unique quality not easily replicated. Engines that burn Avgas can’t handle the ethanol added to regular gasoline and premium gasoline is less powerful than the 100 octane Avgas. The industry has been testing alternatives for quite some time, but none have worked. However, the industry has not been under any pressure thus far to achieve results.

Any Avgas ban would most directly affect aircraft operated in Alaska, which uses roughly one-third of the Avgas consumed in the U.S., and in other remote areas that use piston-engine planes to deliver food, medicine, and other supplies to remote towns. An Avgas ban would essentially regulate these aircraft out of existence. To address this, the National Business Aviation Association and others have formed acoalition of stakeholders that is seeking an approach that focuses on concerns about safety, cost, availability and ease of Avgas production.

If you consider that Avgas is only a small piece of the overall emissions pie, it is clear from this move to begin a monitoring program as well as other recent moves by EPA that air pollution is a top priority. It is likely we will see more emissions regulation in the near future. As this issue progresses, please check back to this blog for future posts.