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EPA poised to rule on health danger of aircraft fumes, possible regulation

Environmentalists have lobbied hard for CO2 standards in aviation industry, echoing efforts to curb emissions elsewhere

The White House is expected to announce as early as Friday whether it believes aircraft fumes endanger public health, a decision that could lead to the federal regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from the aviation sector.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to issue its "endangerment finding," despite pressure from green activists who first sued the agency to start the rulemaking process in 2010. A federal court in 2011 said the EPA must address aircraft emissions under the U.S. Clean Air Act.

The EPA had initially promised the finding would be ready in 2014, but has yet to rule on the matter.

Sources in the rulemaking process, however, have said an announcement may be just days away. And on Wednesday, The New York Times reported that the EPA was set to reveal new rules governing aircraft emissions.

The move would come on the heels of a number of recent pushes for federal regulations on large emitters, including in the car and power plant industries. The effort forms part of the Obama administration’s plans to chart a climate change policy in the face of strong conservative and business opposition.

Most observers expect the EPA to say that aviation emissions endanger public health but are not sure how much the agency and the Federal Aviation Authority will reveal about their vision for a CO2 emissions standard for new aircraft.

“We have efficiency standards for cars, trucks, but we don’t have one for airplanes,” said Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund. “We think this is an industry that has great potential in technical terms, and there is nothing like having an ambitious standard to drive innovation.”

A domestic rulemaking process would lay the groundwork for the United States to adopt a global carbon dioxide standard currently being developed through the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

ICAO is also working on an international “market-based mechanism” to push airlines to slash their emissions, with a goal of final approval in 2016.

U.S. airlines, which favor a global industry standard, said they were encouraged that the EPA and FAA are cooperating with ICAO.

“As aviation is a global industry ... it is critical that aircraft emissions standards continue to be agreed at the international level,” said Vaughn Jennings, managing director for government and regulatory communications for U.S. airline lobby group Airlines for America.

Environmental groups hope the EPA’s announcement will be more ambitious.

“We hope the EPA can push the envelope beyond what ICAO is looking at,” said Ben Longstreth of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of five green groups that sued the EPA to speed up its rulemaking.

Andrew Murphy, a policy officer at Brussels-based NGO Transportation and Environment, said European regulators might also step up pressure on ICAO to deliver a strong standard.

“The European Aviation Safety Agency has raised the prospect of setting European standards if global ones prove insufficient,” he said.

Global aviation emissions are on pace to triple by 2050 if they continue unregulated, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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