Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 15, 2021


Clare Lakewood, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 316-8615,
Joanne Spalding, Sierra Club, (510) 612-4062,
Miranda Fox, Earthjustice, (415) 283-2324,
Hallie Templeton, Friends of the Earth, (434) 326-4647,

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Failure to Cut Airplane Climate Pollution

First-ever Airplane Emissions Rule Fails to Reduce Greenhouse Gases

WASHINGTON— Environmental groups sued the Trump administration today over its finalization of the nation’s first-ever airplane climate emissions standards, which don’t actually reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency standards finalized late last month lag behind existing technology by more than 10 years. Planes are already the third-largest source of transportation-related greenhouse emissions. Over the past decade, airplane emissions rose by 44% and were set to triple again by 2050 ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.

Based on the rule’s outdated, ineffective standard, the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit today, along with Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club, both of which are represented by Earthjustice, in the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit to challenge its adoption.

The rule challenged today won’t apply to in-service airplanes and won’t apply to new in-production airplanes until 2028. At that point the EPA expects all airplanes to already comply with the standards or be phased out. As a result, the agency doesn’t project any emissions reductions from the rule.

“Even in its last days, this reckless administration persists in passing rules that allow unnecessary climate pollution to continue,” said Clare Lakewood, legal director of the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “We’re confident that we’ll stop this rule in court and we look forward to serious, science-based standards from the new Biden administration.”

Twelve states plus the District of Columbia are also petitioning for the court’s review of the rule.

“This lawsuit is a unified effort from states and allied NGOs against yet another polluting giveaway to industry from the Trump administration in its final disgraceful days,” said Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel for the Sierra Club. “Strong federal action is necessary to curb emissions from aviation, a significant and growing source of pollution. We urge the Biden-Harris administration to restore the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency, protecting communities and climate, by setting strong emission standards for aircraft using existing technology.”

Earlier this year the Center released a report that explained how climate pollution from U.S. aviation could be cut by three-quarters or more in the next 20 years.

In 2010 the Center, Friends of the Earth and other organizations represented by Earthjustice sued the EPA to force the agency to set greenhouse pollution standards for airplanes. A judge ruled that the EPA is required to address aviation emissions under the Clean Air Act.

“This standard fails to reduce emissions from aircraft and represents a missed opportunity to address climate change,” said Sarah Burt, deputy managing attorney of Earthjustice’s International Program. “The Clean Air Act clearly establishes an obligation to reduce emissions of harmful pollutants that endanger public health and welfare. Our petition asks the D.C. Circuit to hold EPA to this obligation to work toward a future where our transportation systems no longer contribute to a warming world.”

“For over a decade, we’ve pushed the EPA to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from aircrafts,” said Hallie Templeton, deputy legal director for Friends of the Earth. “It’s unlawful and offensive that the EPA continues to endanger public health and the environment by failing to meaningfully regulate this significant source of air pollution.”

The EPA determined in 2016 that aircraft pollution drives climate change and endangers public health. The United States contributes about a quarter of worldwide aviation greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions from U.S. aircraft alone are higher than the total emissions of more than 150 countries.

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.

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.

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.8 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action.

Earthjustice, the nation’s premier nonprofit environmental law organization, wields the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. Because the earth needs a good lawyer.

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.

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