Having gone after power plants, cars, and trucks, the Environmental Protection Agency has turned its sights to another source of greenhouse-gas emissions: airplanes.
The EPA on Wednesday said that greenhouse-gas emissions from the airline industry pose a threat to public health, and the agency opened the door to regulating the industry for the first time.
According to the agency's draft "endangerment finding," the emissions from commercial aircraft contribute to climate change, "endangering the health and welfare of Americans." That opens the door for further action, similar to the regulations EPA has imposed on light-duty cars and trucks, although the agency did not propose such action on Wednesday. The finding also paves the way for the U.S. to adopt and enforce international standards on airline emissions.
Airline emissions contribute about 2 percent of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions. U.S. airlines account for about 3 percent of the country's total greenhouse-gas emissions and 11 percent of the country's emissions from the transportation sector. According to the EPA, U.S. aircraft make up 29 percent of the world's airline emissions.
But thanks to growth in the industry at home and abroad—American airlines are expecting record numbers this year—those numbers are expected to grow. The International Council on Clean Transportation says emissions are rising at a rate of 3 to 4 percent a year, with the potential to quadruple by 2050.