In a landmark revelation that’s about twenty years late, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has formally declared that greenhouse gas emissions from jet engines endanger the health of humans and the environment by contributing to climate change.
The ruling paves the way for the EPA to start curtailing airline emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, all potent greenhouse gases that for reasons unclear remain above the purview of environmental regulation when coming out the backside of an aircraft. Airlines account for roughly 12 percent of all transit-related greenhouse gas emissions and 3 percent of total emissions in the United States. Aviation is also the fastest-growing transportation sector, with its greenhouse footprint expected to triple by mid century.
The EPA’s decision to call aircraft emissions what they are—a contributor to climate change, and a type of pollution that should be regulated—comes in wake of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which last year set the precedent for classifying carbon dioxide as a pollutant. At the Paris Climate conference later that year, the US pledged to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 percent over the next ten years.
The EPA is also following in the footsteps of the UN, which earlier this year announced the first-ever international carbon emissions standards for airlines. Unfortunately, those standards are weak as hell. Hopefully, by signaling that it understands all greenhouse gas emissions contribute to dangerous heatwaves, more powerful storms, lengthening fire seasons, and other dangerous consequences of climate change, the EPA is gearing up to take meaningful action.