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AReCO in the News

EPA pitches aircraft standard in line with U.N. requirements


    Darren Samuelsohn, Greenwire senior reporter

Tuesday, September 23, 2003


The U.S. EPA has proposed smog emission standards for new commercial aircraft engines consistent with the latest international requirements, a move widely perceived as maintaining the status quo on pollution controls while having no detrimental economic effect on the airline industry.


<>proposed aircraft rule, signed Sept. 12 by acting EPA Administrator Marianne Horinko, would take effect in 2004 and apply to all new engines built for commercial aircraft, including small regional jets, single- and twin-aisle aircraft, and larger airplanes.

The regulation would codify into U.S. law requirements outlined in 1999 by the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization. Those rules are credited with producing a 16 percent cut in nitrogen oxide emissions from aircraft engines from standards set in the 1970s.

The new rule also would put in practice the results of multiyear negotiations between EPA and the Federal Aviation Administration and industry representatives establishing voluntary reductions in aircraft engine emissions while avoiding any safety repercussions.

EPA officials predict a nearly seamless transition to the new standards because about 94 percent of current aircraft engines -- those either certified or already in use -- meet or exceed the standard the agency proposes to adopt.

Some environmentalists following EPA's rulemaking have been critical of the process, however, arguing the agency has done little to push an industry that is a growing contributor to air pollution and public health problems both regionally and globally. In addition to contributing to smog problems in certain U.S. metro areas, aircraft engine pollutants are believed to add significantly to the accumulation of greenhouse gases at higher altitudes.

Jack Saporito, executive director of the Alliance of Residents Concerning O'Hare, a group engaged on environmental issues at Chicago's largest airport and the nation's second busiest by passenger volume, said the federal government should require sharper NOx cuts from aircraft engines as well as extend EPA's reach to other pollutants generated by aircraft and other airport-based emission sources.

The EPA's proposal comes six months after the <>General Accounting Office reported that some new commercial aircraft engines, while quieter and more fuel-efficient than their predecessors, are generating an average of 40 percent more NOx emissions than the engines they are replacing (<>Greenwire,

March 10).

EPA and FAA officials have declined comment on the GAO's findings. In its rulemaking plan, however, EPA notes that its 2004 standards are strong enough to help states achieve or maintain compliance with new ozone and particulate matter requirements, a major concern for some of the nation's largest metro areas.

While aircraft engines contribute about 1 percent to the total U.S. mobile source NOx emissions -- primarily during takeoffs and landings -- EPA said that such emissions rise to more than 4 percent around some high-congestion airports. In Atlanta, home to the nation's busiest airport, Hartsfield International, EPA said NOx emissions from commercial aircraft are expected to more than double by 2010, accounting for as much as 10 percent of the area's mobile source NOx emissions.

Big picture, EPA has said that 26 of the nation's 50 busiest airports are located in areas not currently meeting the current 1-hour ozone standard, and that number could increase to 38 airports when EPA next year begins identifying areas in violation of the new, stricter 8-hour standard.

Aircraft emissions represent a growing segment of air pollutants from the transportation sector, and the proposed regulation comes as other mobile and stationary sources face their own, technology-specific EPA regulations on emissions.

EPA finalized new emission standards in September 2002 for nonroad engines used in airport tarmac equipment, including diesel-burning baggage handling equipment and passenger shuttles. The agency said the rule will cut 1 million tons of hydrocarbons and NOx annually and 1.3 million tons of carbon monoxide (CO) emissions (<>Greenwire,

Sept. 16, 2002). Last March's GAO report said such airport equipment is responsible for equal, and in some cases greater, emissions than aircraft.

A public hearing on the aircraft engine emissions rule has been set for Nov. 13 in Washington, with a comment period open through Dec. 15. A final rule is expected early next year.