Court Ruling Raises Ruckus in Aircraft Industry

A recent federal district court ruling has raised a ruckus in the air transport industry.

The ruling could mean new air pollution standards may be coming for the airline industry.

The case is the Center for Biological Diversity et. al versus the Environmental Protection Agency and Lisa Jackson, administrator of the EPA.

In their suit, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, the International Center for Technology Assessment, and Oceana sued the EPA, sought to compel the agency to act on the regulation of emissions by nonroad vehicles and engines, including marine vessels and aircraft, under the Clean Air Act.

EPA had filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that three of the plaintiffs four claims were beyond the Courts jurisdiction, among other things.

The Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to regulate air pollutants, a category that it defines very broadly, U.S. district court judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. noted in his decision which granted part of the environmentalists motion.

According to Steven Lott, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the judge found that he has the authority to hear the question the environmental groups have raised about whether [the] EPA has unduly delayed a finding on aircraft greenhouse gas emissions.

The group EarthJustice had issued a press release stating that because of the ruling, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must formally determine whether greenhouse gas pollution from aircraft endangers human health and welfare.

But whether the judge will find that [the] EPA must formally determine in accordance with the Clean Air Act whether greenhouse gases from airplanes endanger human health, Lott says, has yet to be seen.

As reported, the EPA has proposed new standards for 737s, 747s, and 767s covering nitrogen oxide emissions, which can cause lung diseases.

The EPA is moving to take on internationally agreed standards adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for these emissions, Fox Business reported.

The ICAO is a group at the United Nations that oversees aircraft emission standards. Lott notes that the EPA is following usual process, consistent with the Clean Air Act, in adopting these standards for nitrogen oxide emissions.

Lott notes also that the ICAO is working on a carbon dioxide (CO2) standard for aircraft. He adds that the EPA is involved in that process, along with the Federal Aviation Administration. Given that aircraft cross national boundaries, it is extremely important to have international standards for them, Lott says.

Lott adds: By treaty, the U.S. has committed to act consistent with international standards for aircraft engine emissions set under ICAO. Typically, the U.S. works within ICAO to help set an international standard and then adopts that standard into U.S. law consistent with relevant Clean Air Act provisions.

Lott notes: The environmental groups that have sued the EPA..are asking EPA to go forward with new aircraft emissions regulations in a manner that would compromise the careful process for consideration of such standards. In its ruling last week, the court found that it has the authority under the Clean Air Act to consider the environmental groups claims, but has made no finding on the merits of those claims. We ultimately expect that the court will uphold the process that EPA is following to give careful consideration to potential new standards.