EPA Admits America’s First-Ever Airplane Emissions Rules Won’t Actually Reduce Pollution

Aircraft in our skies today won't have to heed emissions laws until 2028, and even then, the EPA thinks firms will upgrade their craft anyway.

Back in 2016, the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) settled on a set of global emissions standards for personal and commercial aviation, garnering praise from regulators and the aerospace industry alike. This past Monday, the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged these standards by codifying them into the country’s first-ever civil aviation emissions laws, which it proclaims will maintain the U.S. aerospace industry’s competitive edge abroad. How exactly isn’t clear, though, as the EPA has outright admitted its implementation of the ICAO standards won’t actually impact carbon emissions.

As outlined in July, the EPA’s emissions ruleset will retroactively apply to all new civil aircraft type designators dating January 2020 onward, and previously approved or amended type certificates as of 2028. In plain English, newly introduced planes or derivatives thereof will have to comply, but planes already in production or updated won’t need to seek compliance until 2028, and military aircraft are entirely exempt. Aircraft that fall into the regulated categories reportedly account for 10 percent of carbon emissions from U.S. transportation, and three percent of the country’s carbon emissions as a whole.

Delta Air Lines aircraft, Airbus

“[The] EPA is not projecting emission reductions associated with these GHG (greenhouse gas) regulations,” the agency told Reuters, stating it does not anticipate new regulations “will cause manufacturers to make technical improvements to their airplanes that would not have occurred [otherwise].”

This self-admittedly ineffective ruleset, which the EPA will reportedly publish in the coming days, has received criticism from both environmental groups and nearly a quarter of U.S. state governments, together representing 31.9 percent of the U.S. population. Their numbers include California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, plus the District of Columbia.

“The substantive standards that EPA proposes to adopt—the 2016 GHG standards developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)—lag existing technology by more than 10 years and would result in no GHG reductions at all compared to business-as-usual,” reads a complaint collectively lodged in October. “In fact, EPA has not even considered any form of emission control that would reduce GHGs, despite the agency’s determination that these emissions endanger public health and welfare.”

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