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California: EPA must rethink standards regulating particulate matter pollution from airplanes

Christian Fernsby |
California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the California Air Resources Board (CARB), leading a multistate coalition, urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt more protective standards for particulate matter emissions from airplanes.

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As currently written, the EPA’s proposed rule would set emissions standards for particulate matter for commercial aircraft that are legally inadequate and fail to mitigate the harms of this pollution by any amount.

Stronger standards are essential to make progress on the Biden Administration's stated commitment to address disproportionate environmental burdens in low-income communities and communities of color.

“Communities living, working, and going to school near airports are bearing the brunt of particulate matter pollution from airplanes and the resulting health consequences,” said Attorney General Bonta.

“The EPA’s proposal fails our communities, repeating the same mistakes it made during the previous administration in standards regulating greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes. These standards, if finalized, would again result in no actual reductions in emissions. That's unacceptable. I urge the EPA to work to develop standards that do right by our communities and advance the Biden Administration's stated environmental justice goals.”

"EPA’s proposal is a missed opportunity to meaningfully control fine particle emissions from aircraft, which have serious health and environmental effects," said CARB Executive Officer Richard W. Corey.

"The communities surrounding airports – disproportionately low-income and communities of color – need effective federal action to reduce these emissions, both in California and across the country."

Particulate matter pollution causes up to 45,000 deaths per year nationwide and disproportionately impacts California’s most vulnerable populations. Particulate matter is linked to increased mortality from COVID-19 and other serious public health problems including cardiovascular disease, respiratory impacts, and cancer.

The worst health effects occur from particulate matter emitted from airplanes during takeoff and landing, most impacting communities that live, work, and go to school near airports.

These communities are disproportionately low-income communities and communities of color.

In California, for example, several of the busiest airports, including Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), San Jose International Airport (SJO), and Oakland International Airport (OAK) are surrounded by communities in which residents are predominantly people of color and experience high levels of poverty.

While the proposed rule acknowledges significant evidence that these communities are inequitably impacted by particulate matter pollution from airplanes, the EPA understates the environmental justice impacts of this pollution due to inadequate monitoring data and underestimations of particulate matter’s health effects.

The proposed rule also fails to reduce particulate matter pollution at all, even though there are jet engines currently in use that reduce particulate matter emissions by orders of magnitude far surpassing those required by the proposed standards.

Attorney General Bonta and CARB are currently leading multistate litigation challenging the EPA’s similarly ineffective standards regulating greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes.

Attorney General Bonta and CARB are joined by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin in filing the comments.

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