EPA Preparing To Unleash More Climate Regulations

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to unveil a finding that greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes harm human health — a finding which could mean more climate regulations.

The EPA has already sent the White House its endangerment finding for review. It’s expected the agency will, as it did in 2009, find that greenhouse gas emissions harm human health because they cause global warming. Such a finding will allow the agency to issue regulations on carbon dioxide and other gases emitted by airliners.

“We don’t have any timeline for doing a rule,” an EPA spokeswoman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “For any potential EPA domestic rulemaking to adopt equivalent international standards, EPA would have to propose and then finalize an affirmative endangerment and cause or contribute findings for aircraft greenhouse gas emissions.”

The EPA may not have a timeline for new rules, but the agency found in 2009 that greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles were a danger to public health due to their impact on global warming. It would be hard for the EPA not to make a similar finding about airplane emissions.

“The D.C. District court in 2012 found that EPA had a duty under the Clean Air Act to make a final determination on whether aircraft greenhouse gas emissions cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare,” she added.

Energy analysts say the agency could propose new airline regulations as soon as May, but rules governing aircraft emissions would not likely be implemented until 2018 — assuming a climate-minded Democrat is again elected to sit in the oval office.

“It would, however, likely be very difficult for EPA to walk back from an endangerment finding and forego an eventual aircraft [greenhouse gas] rule,” according to energy experts at ClearView Energy Partners.

“At this time, we expect 2018 to be the earliest that a U.S. [greenhouse gas] emissions standard for aircraft could take effect,” ClearView experts wrote in a recent analysis. “How fast EPA might act would likely be a function of whether the next President shares the Obama Administration’s climate policy priorities.”

But even with a Republican in office that opposed regulating greenhouse gases, the EPA could be subject to lawsuits by environmental groups to compel the agency to issue new climate regulations. In fact, the pending airline emissions endangerment finding is in response to a 2010 lawsuit by environmental groups.

“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 last year in its notification to the United Nations.

Environmentalists have already sued to induce the EPA to issue global warming regulations for vehicles and power plants, so it’s quite likely activists will pursue legal action if a subsequent administration does not move quickly enough to regulate airline emissions.

On the other hand, the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization could impose an international cap-and-trade system for the airline industry before the EPA is able to implement its own domestic standards.

“Other measures could be finalized before potential U.S. standards, like a global market-based mechanism (MBM) implemented by ICAO or the externalization of the E.U.’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which could impact international airlines flying into European airports beginning as early as 2017,” ClearView analysts wrote.

U.S. lawmakers, however, have put up resistance to previous attempts by foreign bodies to regulate airline greenhouse gas emissions. In 2013, Republican lawmakers joined with the Obama administration to oppose attempts by the European Union to tax carbon emissions from U.S. airliners.

But Republicans have also promised to oppose any attempts by the EPA to regulate airline emissions.

“I oppose any efforts by the Obama EPA to saddle American airline passengers with new taxes to reduce aviation emissions,” said South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune.

“The U.S. is already working with its international partners and aviation stakeholders to develop appropriate emissions standards,” Thune said. “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.”

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