Conservation Coalition and States Will Sue EPA to Reduce Global Warming Pollution from Ships and Planes | Oceana

Conservation Coalition and States Will Sue EPA to Reduce Global Warming Pollution from Ships and Planes

Press Release Date: October 1, 2009

Location: Washington, D.C.


Anna Baxter | email:
Anna Baxter

A coalition of conservation groups and state attorneys general filed formal letters warning of impending lawsuits over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to address global warming pollution from ocean-going ships and aircraft.  The conservation groups’ notice of intent to sue was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Oceana, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Eight state and local jurisdictions filed similar notices today, formally declaring their intent to sue the EPA for unreasonable delay. The filers included the states of California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon, the City of New York, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, California Air Resources Board and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The coalition filed petitions to the EPA in October and December 2007, requesting that it determine whether greenhouse gas emissions from marine vessels and aircraft endanger public health and welfare, and if so, to issue regulations to control greenhouse gas emissions from these sources. The coalition asked for a response within 180 days but none was received during that period.

Instead, EPA delayed its legal obligations by issuing an “Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (known as an ANPR) on July 11, 2008. The ANPR does not make a finding as to whether EPA intends to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, as the Supreme Court determined it was required to do, or draw any conclusions about how to protect public health and welfare from global warming pollutants.  Instead, the ANPR compiles comments from other government agencies on the subject of regulating greenhouse gas emissions, reviews provisions of the Clean Air Act, and raises numerous issues regarding potential regulations.  In hundreds of pages, the ANPR avoids answering key relevant questions:  whether greenhouse gases endanger public health or welfare, and if so, how and when it will take action.

“More than 15 months after the Supreme Court’s order, EPA, once again, has ignored its legal – and moral – obligation to act quickly to protect the health and welfare of Americans. The Bush administration is wasting precious time with continued foot-dragging – time that we don’t have. We have gone to court to force action by this or the next administration,” said Martin Wagner of Earthjustice, who is representing the coalition.

“Scientists are reporting that global climate change is damaging our oceans and our daily lives, even more rapidly than forecast,” said Dr. Michael Hirshfield, Oceana’s chief scientist and senior vice president for North America. “Does the EPA think climate change will go away by itself? ‘We’ll think about it tomorrow’ is an unconscionable conclusion for an agency whose mission is to protect the environment,” added Hirshfield.

The conservation groups also released a report today entitled Shipping Impacts on Climate: A Source with Solutions.  The report analyzes the large impacts of shipping on climate change and discusses solutions.  It is available at

“The latest Bush administration tactic on global warming seems to be ‘if you can’t beat them, delay them,'” said Danielle Fugere, Western Regional Program Director for Friends of the Earth.  “Instead of taking action on global warming pollution from shipping and aviation — two of the fastest growing sources of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide — EPA is yet again putting the brakes on developing innovative global warming solutions.”

“If we’re going to slow the melting of the Arctic and save not only the polar bear but thousands of species around the world, we need to implement highly effective existing environmental laws like the Clean Air Act,” said Kassie Siegel, Climate Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Regulating greenhouse pollution from ships and aircraft under the Clean Air Act is a necessary first step towards solving the climate crisis.”


Aviation and Global Warming

Aircraft emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide. In fact, they currently account for 12 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. transportation sources and three percent of the United States’ total carbon dioxide emissions. The United States is responsible for nearly half of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft.

Aircraft also emit nitrogen oxides, known as NOX, which contribute to the formation of ozone, another greenhouse gas. Emissions of NOX at high altitudes result in greater concentrations of ozone than ground-level emissions. Aircraft also emit water vapor at high altitudes, which forms condensation trails or “contrails.” Contrails are visible cloud lines that form in cold, humid atmospheres and contribute to the warming impacts of aircraft emissions. Moreover, the persistent formation of contrails is associated with increased cirrus cloud cover, which also warms the Earth’s surface.

Together, these high altitude emissions have a greater global warming impact than if the emissions were released at ground-level. A recent report by the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Protection found that the net effects of ozone, contrail and aviation-induced cloud cover is likely to triple the warming effect of aircraft-emitted CO2 alone. The report concludes that if these estimates are correct and the anticipated growth in aviation realized, aviation may be responsible for between six and ten percent of the human impact on climate by the year 2050.

Emissions to Triple by Mid-Century

Greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft are anticipated to increase substantially in the coming decades due to the projected growth in air transport, both domestically and globally. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. domestic aircraft are expected to increase 60 percent by 2025. Globally, aircraft emissions are expected to more than triple by mid-century. While some countries, such as the European Union, have already begun to respond to these challenges, the United States has failed to address this enormous source of emissions.

Potential Aircraft Solutions

  • Adopting operational measures to minimize fuel use and reduce emissions from aircraft
  • Requiring the use of lighter, more aerodynamic and more energy efficient airplanes, as well as the development of even more efficient designs
  • Adopting regulatory measures to create incentives to use cleaner jet fuels

Ships and Global Warming

Ships are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. The global fleet of marine vessels releases almost three percent of the world’s carbon dioxide, an amount comparable to the emissions of Canada. Because of their huge numbers and inefficient operating practices, marine vessels release a large volume of global warming pollutants, particularly carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and black carbon (or soot).

Despite their impact on the global climate, greenhouse gas emissions from ships are not currently regulated by the United States government. In addition, these emissions are not limited under the Kyoto Protocol or other international treaties that address global warming.

Global shipping activity has increased by three percent per year for the last three decades and this rate of growth is projected to increase. If fuel use remains unchanged, shipping pollution will increase substantially, potentially doubling from 2002 levels by the year 2020 and tripling by 2030.

Potential Shipping Solutions

  • Requiring marine vessels to increase their fuel efficiency, thereby reducing carbon dioxide and other pollutants. This could include simply slowing down, as a 10 percent speed reduction results in a 23 percent reduction in CO2, along with a 23 percent fuel saving.
  • Requiring marine vessels to use cleaner fuels to reduce greenhouse gas and soot emissions; and
  • Extending these new regulations to all marine cargo vessels operating in U.S. waters, whether they are registered in the United States or another country, to avoid disproportionate burdens on U.S. ships and to reduce pollution emitted in U.S. waters.