EPA finalizes airplane greenhouse gas emissions regulations

January 4, 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its first-ever regulations that limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by airplanes.

The new regulations will apply to new aircraft designs submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration after Jan. 1, 2023 and in-production planes after Jan. 1, 2028.

The rule will align the U.S. with international carbon dioxide emission standards set by the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization. According to the EPA, U.S. airplane manufacturers would have been forced to seek carbon dioxide emissions certifications from another country’s aviation certification authority had the EPA not taken action.

“The U.S. leads the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and today’s historic action that finalizes the first-ever GHG standard for aircraft will continue this trend,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

The EPA estimates airplane emissions account for about 3% of the U.S.’ total greenhouse gas emissions.

Total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions were on a downward trend since 2014, but have been on the rise since the beginning of the Trump administration.

Environmental groups said the new regulation would not force plane manufacturers or airlines to make any changes to cut harmful climate pollution.

Liz Jones, attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said the rule is not expected to reduce emissions as the standards lag behind existing technology by more than a decade.

“This rule is especially infuriating because there are effective ways for the aviation industry to modernize and decarbonize,” said Liz Jones, attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “What we desperately need are technology-forcing standards to get the industry on track.”

Jones said the rule was an industry handout from the Trump administration, and that the responsibility to step up and actually cut aviation emissions would fall to the incoming Biden administration.

The Biden climate plan acknowledges the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change and sets a 2050 deadline for net-zero emissions, or the equivalent of the removal of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.

President-elect Joe Biden has made his picks for nominees to head the federal agencies that will be crucial to carrying out his climate plan, including former Secretary of State John Kerry as climate envoy, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan as EPA administrator and former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy as national climate advisor or “climate czar,” the official in charge of coordinating climate policies across federal agencies.

“Defeating this threat is the fight of our lifetimes, and our success will require the engagement of every community, every sector in our nation and every country in the world,” McCarthy said during the announcement of the Biden climate team. “The president-elect has put together the strongest climate plan ever raised to this level of leadership. It rises to the incredible moment of opportunity we have to build back better for our health, for jobs and for communities that have been systematically disadvantaged for years.”

Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris climate accord, a nonbinding agreement that seeks to cap global warming at 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, on his first day of office, but the timeline for the rest of the plan is unclear.

The success of Biden’s climate agenda may depend on the results of a runoff election in Georgia, where voters will select who gets two Senate seats up for grabs.

If Republicans win those seats, Biden may not be able to get his nominees confirmed, let alone his climate policy goals.

EPA finalizes airplane greenhouse gas emissions regulations