Planes, trains, automobiles, and power plants: The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is leaving no carbon emissions source untouched in its quest to regulate greenhouse gasses. The next source in the EPA’s sights is the aviation industry – at least according to a document the EPA presented to the International Civil Aviation Organization Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (ICAO/CAEP) at a September 2014 meeting in Indonesia. Environmental organizations are also urging the EPA and FAA to move on an aviation emissions rule.

In order to regulate emissions from the aviation sector, EPA must first make an endangerment finding (a determination that greenhouse gas emissions from aviation sources are a threat to human health and the environment). The EPA told ICAO/CAEP it plans to initiate a 202(a) endangerment finding rulemaking pertaining to aviation emissions as soon as 2016. After this, if an endangerment finding is made, EPA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will then embark on a separate rulemaking to impose aviation emissions constraints. It is unclear at this time whether the EPA will look to the ICAO/CAEP standards for carbon emissions, or do something else.

If all this rulemaking sounds expensive, that’s because it is. Notice and comment rulemaking consumes vast amounts of agency and private sector time and money. EPA itself has expressed distress in court filings about the expense of these rule makings. Emissions constraints compliance and enforcement add another layer of expense. A more efficient way of accomplishing the same end is through market-based mechanisms to internalize the costs of carbon in the aviation industry. The ICAO will consider incentives, carbon taxes, and other market based solutions to climate change at its upcoming spring meeting in Warsaw . Hopefully the U.S. government will listen carefully.

Photo Credit: United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [Public domain].