As today’s letter notes, the Biden administration has yet to announce any efforts to replace useless Trump-era standards, despite saying they need review.
Instead, earlier this month Biden officials announced tax breaks and voluntary programs to boost airlines’ reliance on biofuel, also known as “sustainable aviation fuel.”
Biofuels are not proven to be carbon neutral or sustainable. Some jet biofuels cause more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. They can also result in increased emissions of nitrogen oxide, an air pollutant associated with respiratory illnesses including asthma.
“Call it greenwashing or ‘greenwishing’ but voluntary biofuel pledges won’t save us from climate catastrophe,” said Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Despite being by far the largest airplane polluter in the world, the United States has stalled any meaningful aircraft emissions rules for more than a decade. Enforceable carbon pollution cuts are better than all the aspirational ambitions in the world, and they need to start now.”
“Rather than overturn Trump’s hollow, corporate-friendly regulations for aircraft emissions, Biden is exacerbating the problem by propping up dirty, false solutions like biofuel,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “This administration must swiftly and meaningfully regulate harmful aircraft emissions, finally doing the right thing for the climate and communities.”
“Aircraft are a large and growing source of harmful emissions and yet remain largely unregulated,” said Sarah Burt, deputy managing attorney at Earthjustice. “If we’re to prevent devastating warming of our planet and protect the public from harmful air pollution, we have to move towards zero-emissions aviation. The EPA must set us on that path with a strong rule that significantly and immediately reduces carbon emissions from this sector.”
In January the Trump administration finalized airplane greenhouse gas emission standards that the Environmental Protection Agency admits don’t actually reduce greenhouse gas pollution. The rules, which mirror those adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, are too weak to address the severity of the climate crisis.
A previous analysis of those international standards found that most airlines in the United States, covering more than three-quarters of aviation demand, already meet the standards. By the time the rule goes into effect in 2028, the EPA expects all airplanes to already comply with the standards or be phased out. As a result, the agency doesn’t project any emissions reductions from the rule.
The Center, along with Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club, both of which are represented by Earthjustice, filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, challenging the rule.
Last year the Center released a report that explained how climate pollution from U.S. aviation could be cut by three-quarters or more in the next 20 years.
In 2010 the Center, Friends of the Earth and other organizations represented by Earthjustice sued the EPA to force the agency to set greenhouse pollution standards for airplanes. A judge ruled that the EPA is required to address aviation emissions under the Clean Air Act.
Commercial aviation currently accounts for 11% of all U.S. transportation carbon dioxide emissions and 2.4% of carbon emissions around the globe. Despite a short-term downturn during the pandemic, this number is expected to grow in the coming decade. Flights departing from airports in the United States and its territories are responsible for almost one-quarter of global passenger transport-related carbon pollution.