EPA Looking To Regulate CO2 Emissions From Airlines

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Environmental Protection Agency has begun the process of determining whether to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from airline flights, which could result in higher costs for airline travelers.

The agency has no timeline set for when the rule will be released, but anticipates a proposed endangerment finding by late April 2015 and a final determination by spring of 2016. A positive endangerment finding would mean the EPA would declare greenhouse gas emissions “endanger public health or welfare.”

“If a positive endangerment and cause or contribute findings are made, U.S./EPA is obligated under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to set [greenhouse gas] emission standards for aircraft,” the EPA said in its notification to the United Nations.

Federal lawmakers and even the Obama administration previously opposed airline carbon dioxide emissions taxes imposed on U.S. flights by the European Union. But this action was mainly opposed on the grounds that it was the EU that was levying the tax, not Congress or U.S. regulators.

The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) also opposed the EU’s emissions tax on all flights to and from Europe, but have promised to address global warming by coming up with their own cap-and-trade program for airliners. But if ICAO isn’t able to hash out an agreement, the EU has threatened to once again start taxing U.S. and foreign airliners.

In that context, the EPA’s airline endangerment finding would help exempt U.S. airliners from an EU emissions tax because they would be covered by another regulatory scheme. But the EPA’s finding could mean higher airline ticket prices from more onerous global warming regulations.

“I oppose any efforts by the Obama EPA to saddle American airline passengers with new taxes to reduce aviation emissions,” South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an emailed statement. “The U.S. is already working with its international partners and aviation stakeholders to develop appropriate emissions standards. The EPA must not stray from this important collaborative effort or it will damage the competitiveness of U.S. carriers and unfairly harm American travelers.”

EPA officials say a 2012 federal court decision has forced the agency to begin determining whether or not airline greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare. The court decision was the result of a 2010 lawsuit brought by environmental groups that want to see more regulations to thwart global warming.

The EPA’s decision to now begin determining whether or not airline emissions harm public health comes after the agency issued carbon dioxide emissions limits for power plants. Airlines represent another source of carbon dioxide emissions and play into the president’s crusade against global warming.

“The United States recently submitted an information paper that notifies the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of the steps that EPA would need to take in order to develop U.S. standards for addressing greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft under the Clean Air Act,” the EPA told TheDCNF.

“Aircraft emissions have long been covered by international standards and FAA and EPA work under CAA authority to then adopt those standards domestically,” the EPA added.

But analysts don’t think the agency will actually have enough time to make an endangerment finding and regulate the airline industry during President Obama’s tenure.

“In our view, the end of President Obama’s second term in January 2017 isn’t likely to leave current EPA leadership enough time to complete an endangerment finding and regulate aircraft GHG emissions,” according to analysts from ClearView Energy Partners.

“That said, EPA’s letter to ICAO suggests strong prospects for an endangerment finding that could obligate EPA to establish regulations in the future — particularly if the next President’s climate policy comports to the Obama Administration’s environmental agenda,” ClearView analysts added.

The EPA already determined in late 2009 that greenhouse gas emissions threaten public health because they drive global warming. Greenhouse gases, however, do not directly harm human health like traditional pollutants, but instead harm health indirectly through warming the planet, according to the agency.

“The policies of Obama’s EPA are aimed at increasing the cost of energy and the cost of living for Americans,” Chris Warren, spokesman for the free-market Institute for Energy Research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The end goal here is slap a costly regulation or mandate on airlines, which will make air travel more expensive for the average American.”

“This is the same tactic that was used with CAFE standards for cars. President Obama must be trying to clear the airways for billionaire backers like Tom Steyer to fly from California to D.C. every week,” Warren said.

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