Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 20, 2023


Liz Jones, Center for Biological Diversity, (310) 365-9281,
Brittany Miller, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0746,

Lawsuit Challenges Biden EPA Failure to Cut Airplane Soot Pollution

Agency Rule Fails to Reduce Deadly Air Pollutant

WASHINGTON— Environmental groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency today over its rule that fails to cut aircraft particulate matter pollution, commonly known as soot and smoke.

The EPA has admitted it doesn’t expect the rule to reduce emissions of airplanes’ particulate matter, one of the deadliest forms of air pollution. The rule follows standards developed in an industry-dominated process by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which intentionally lag behind existing pollution-reduction technologies.

“It’s outrageous that the EPA continues to defer to the aviation industry rather than do its job protecting people’s health,” said Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Communities near airports are bombarded every day with deadly pollution. They deserve better than this do-nothing rule.”

Because of the rule’s outdated, ineffective standard, the Center, Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit to challenge its adoption.

The EPA first set particulate matter standards for planes in 1973, when it finalized “smoke standards” focused on improving visibility. The agency has made only minor updates to the standards over the last 50 years.

In that time, particle pollution from smoke and soot has been linked to asthma, cardiovascular disease, declines in brain function and even death. Particulate matter from airplanes is responsible for thousands of premature deaths each year, with health harms falling disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color that live near airports.

This is the second “do-nothing” airplane rule the Biden administration has supported. The same groups sued the EPA in 2021 over its finalization of the nation’s first-ever airplane climate emissions standards, which won’t reduce greenhouse gas pollution. That case is currently pending in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and a decision is expected this year.

“Today’s filing is the latest in our decades-long battle with EPA to finally secure meaningful, comprehensive regulations on aircraft emissions,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director at Friends of the Earth. “EPA has continued to flout its crystal clear legal obligations to take swift, effective action to curb this dangerous and significant source of air pollution. We are not easily backing down from this fight and will keep holding EPA accountable to people and the planet.”

The groups are calling on the agency to set stricter standards. There is an array of actions the EPA can take to reduce airplane pollution, including requiring manufacturers to use pollution-control technologies that are already widely available, accounting for operational improvements, and setting a fleet-wide standard.

Friends of the Earth is represented by Earthjustice, and Sierra Club is represented by Earthjustice and outside counsel Vera Pardee.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Friends of the Earth fights to protect our environment and create a healthy and just world. We speak truth to power and expose those who endanger people and the planet. Our campaigns work to hold politicians and corporations accountable, transform our economic systems, protect our forests and oceans, and revolutionize our food & agriculture systems.

center locations