The EPA has released the first ever pollution regulations for airplanes…but they don't do anything.

Aviation is notoriously bad for the environment. According to the nonprofit Environmental and Energy Study Institute, "Aircraft contribute 12 percent of U.S. transportation emissions, and account for three percent of the nation's total greenhouse gas production." Yet, "globally, aviation produced 2.4 percent of total CO2 emissions in 2018."

Six times more than our share? That's not a good look.

The good news is, the EPA just released, "Control of Air Pollution from Airplanes and Airplane Engines: GHG Emission Standards and Test Procedures – Final Rulemaking," the first attempt at curbing airplane emissions.

The bad news is that, according to the document:

The in-production standards apply to covered airplanes beginning January 1, 2028. Additionally, consistent with ICAO standards, before the in-production standards otherwise apply in 2028, certain modifications made to airplanes (i.e., changes that result in an increase in GHG emissions) will trigger a requirement to certify to the in-production regulation beginning January 1, 2023.

Why is that bad news? Because, according to an attorney from the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute in an interview with Gizmodo, there are no new plane designs currently in production, nor are any expected to be in production for at least another decade. And most existing aircraft have a lifespan of 20-30 years. With an estimated 167,000 fixed-wing general aviation aircraft in operation in the US, according to the FAA, most of those won't have to undergo "certain" modifications for quite a while.


The EPA's business as usual baseline projects that even independent of the ICAO standards, nearly all airplanes produced by U.S. manufacturers will meet the ICAO in-production standards in 2028. This result is not surprising, given the significant market pressure on airplane manufacturers to continually improve the fuel efficiency of aircraft, the significant annual research and development expenditures from the aircraft industry (much of which is focused on fuel efficiency), and the more than 50 year track record of the industry in developing and selling aircraft which have shown continuous improvement in fuel efficiency.

In other words, any new airplanes that are produced in the near future will likely adhere to these new guidelines simply by virtue of standard technological advancements, so there's nothing to actually worry about.

Four years ago, the EPA recognized aviation emissions as a public health risk and climate change accelerant. Glad to see they're taking action by publishing 133 pages of reasons why that's totally fine for the next 20 years.

Control of Air Pollution from Airplanes and Airplane Engines: GHG Emission Standards and Test Procedures – Final Rulemaking [EPA]

Image: Public Domain via US Air Force