Attorney General Becerra, CARB Lead Coalition in Challenging Trump Administration's Insufficient Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Airplanes

Friday, January 15, 2021
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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) today led a multistate coalition in filing a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from airplanes at a level that would result in no reductions in emissions as compared to business-as-usual. The aviation industry is the largest unregulated transportation source of GHGs in the United States, contributing 12% of total transportation-related emissions. Given the long lead time necessary for manufacturers to develop new aircraft designs, the EPA's final rule would effectively lock in meaningless standards for years — as the climate emergency grows increasingly dire. In today’s lawsuit, the coalition argues that the rule is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.

“The aviation industry is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, yet the EPA has set standards here that are the equivalent of doing nothing,” said Attorney General Becerra. “If we're to have any hope of meaningfully addressing the climate crisis, everyone must do their part. No sector, certainly not one that is a major contributor of GHGs, should be gifted a free pass from taking meaningful action to limit emissions.” 

“Many aircraft already meet this standard and even U.S. EPA admits it is unlikely to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said CARB Executive Officer Richard W. Corey. “These standards are far too weak to accelerate investment in more fuel-efficient aircraft and engines, and they lag existing aircraft technologies by more than a decade. The projected growth of aviation GHG emissions requires standards that are informed by science and robust analysis which unfortunately are principles the current administration continues to ignore."

Aviation emissions are a significant source of the world’s total GHG emissions, and the United States is the single largest emitter. Globally, the aviation industry is responsible for approximately 2.4% of all carbon dioxide emissions and 12% of GHG emissions from all transportation sources. The United States contributes more than a quarter of global aviation GHG emissions, and its emissions from aircraft alone are higher than total GHG emissions in more than 150 countries. GHG emissions from U.S. aircraft are expected to grow 43% in the next two decades, and globally, aviation emissions are expected to triple by 2050 unless governments and industry take aggressive action. 

Section 231 of the Clean Air Act authorizes and directs the EPA to issue appropriate emission standards for dangerous pollutants from aircraft engines based on a reasonable assessment of aircrafts’ contribution to GHG emissions and the technological feasibility of emissions controls. Strengthening emission standards now would not only benefit public health and the environment, but could also lead to consumer savings in the long run and help make American-manufactured aircraft more competitive in markets that are adopting robust GHG emission standards. 

However, last month, the EPA finalized standards that lag behind existing technology by more than 10 years and would result in no GHG reductions at all compared to business-as-usual. In fact, the EPA has not even considered any form of emission control that would reduce GHGs, despite its determination that these emissions endanger public health and the environment. The EPA also failed to consider the co-benefits of GHG regulation and the environmental justice impacts of pollution from aircrafts. Aircrafts emit particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and hazardous air pollutants. Residents living within 10 miles of airports — which disproportionately include disadvantaged minority and low-income communities — are exposed to large amounts of these harmful pollutants through emissions from aircraft landing and takeoff operations.

In the lawsuit, the coalition intends to argue that the EPA acted arbitrarily, capriciously, and unlawfully by adopting a rule that:

  • Fails to reduce emissions at all beyond business-as-usual;
  • Lags existing technology by a decade; and
  • Excluded from consideration more effective alternatives. 

In October 2020, Attorney General Becerra and CARB led a multistate coalition in urging the EPA to strengthen standards regulating GHG emissions from airplanes and other aircraft.  

Attorney General Becerra and CARB are joined in filing the lawsuit today by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.

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