Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Aircraft Endanger Public Health and Welfare

July 23, 2015

On June 10, 2015, Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm, issued an announcement on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) finding that greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations. Per Earthjustice, "The EPA's Endangerment Finding confirms that aircraft are a significant source of climate pollution, emitting approximately 700 million metric tonnes per year. This makes global aviation, if it were equivalent to a country, the 7th largest global emitter, just below Germany and more than Korea and Canada."[1]

As noted by one of the petitioners, Friends of the Earth,

"Aviation accounts for about 11 percent of carbon dioxide pollution from the U.S. transportation sector and is one of the fastest-growing sources of carbon pollution, rising three to five percent a year. Carbon emissions from global aviation will quadruple by mid-century without action."[2]

After an extensive review of the scientific literature on the effects of global warming the EPA concluded that "children will be disproportionately impacted by climate change..Impacts to children are expected from heat waves, air pollution, infectious and waterborne illnesses, and mental health effects resulting from extreme weather events. In addition, the assessments find that climate change will influence production of pollen that affects asthma and other allergic respiratory diseases, to which children are among those especially susceptible."[3]

The EPA also identified climate change as an 'environmental justice' issue which disproportionately impacts other vulnerable groups including elderly, poor, and low-income populations as well as "some populations defined jointly by ethnic/racial characteristics and geographic location."[4]

Though thankful for the endangerment finding, the petitioners expressed disappointment in the EPA's decision to hand off responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the agency supposedly responsible since 1997 for reducing greenhouse gases from aircraft.

According to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity:

"In the last 18 years, the ICAO has not adopted any measure to curb aircraft-induced global warming. The organization has rejected, in turn, efficiency standards, fuel taxes, emissions charges and global emissions trading. Despite the ICAO's failure to act, the EPA intends to wait to see if the ICAO will finally propose emission standards in 2016."[5]

Members of the public have until 8/31/15 to submit formal comments on the EPA's Proposed Finding That Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Aircraft Cause or Contribute to Air Pollution That May Reasonably Be Anticipated to Endanger Public Health and Welfare and Advance Notice of Public Rulemaking. (Federal Register Docket No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2014-0828). Additional information on this matter is available at the US Federal Register website.


[1] EPA: Carbon Pollution Endangers Public Health, Must Be Controlled. Earthjustice website. (6/10/15).

[2] Conservation Groups Launch Legal Challenge to Cut Carbon Pollution from Aircraft. Friends of the Earth website. (8/5/14).

[3] Proposed Finding That Greenhouse Gas Emissions >From Aircraft Cause or Contribute to Air Pollution That May Reasonably Be Anticipated To Endanger Public Health and Welfare and Advance Notice of Proposal Rulemaking: A Proposed Rule by the Environmental Protection Agency. Federal Register Docket No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2014-0828. (7/1/15).

[4] Ibid.

[5] EPA Finds Airplane Pollution Endangers Climate, Fails to Curb Emissions. Center for Biological Diversity. (6/5/15).

Related articles on this topic:

Holthaus. Eric. Just Plane Wrong: Global aviation is the fastest-growing cause of climate change. And the EPA might let it off the hook. Slate. (6/4/15).

McDonnell, Tim. Here's Why Obama Is Cracking Down on Airplane Pollution: On a plane? Enjoy the view of the planet you're killing! Mother Jones. (6/5/15).

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