On Monday, February 8, 2015, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) proposed new limits on airplane greenhouse gas emissions.  This announcement marks the second step in a process that may eventually lead to regulation of airplane greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

If finalized, ICAO’s new rules will be phased-in over the next 12 years.  First, beginning in 2020, the standards will apply to new aircraft designs.  Next, new deliveries of aircraft currently in production will need to comply with ICAO rules by 2023.  Finally, by 2028, production of non-compliant aircraft must cease.  Overall, these rules are estimated to result in a 4% decline in average fuel consumption for new airplanes.

ICAO’s emissions standards must be formally ratified by the agency’s 36-country Governing Council in June and then must be adopted by each member state.  The United States is both a member state of ICAO and a member of the organization’s Governing Council.  ICAO is then expected to turn its attention to establishing an international aviation emissions trading program.

The United States is expected to adopt the ICAO standards, or something similar to them.  On July 1, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed endangerment finding for GHG emissions from certain classes of aircraft.  This proposal builds on EPA’s 2009 finding that GHGs from automobiles contribute to climate change and therefore pose a threat to human health and welfare.  If the endangerment finding for aircraft emissions is finalized, EPA will be required to regulate these emissions under Clean Air Act § 231(a)(2)(A).  EPA’s 2015 proposal explained, however, that final rules would be withheld until international standards were adopted by ICAO.  EPA indicated that subsequent domestic standards will be at least as stringent as international standards.

Some industry groups and airplane manufacturer Boeing have publically endorsed ICAO’s proposed standards.  As the regulatory process shifts to the domestic arena, however, industry may be less satisfied with the outcome.  Environmental groups have already announced their intent to push for domestic standards more stringent than ICAO’s proposal.  Interested parties should participate in the notice and comment process for EPA’s forthcoming standards, which could begin as soon as this summer.