The agreement just didn't fly.
For the past five years, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration tried to negotiate with the airline industry, airport operators, environmental groups and state regulators to reduce emissions from the aviation sector, both aircraft and ground equipment.
About a dozen participants took part in the talks, which started as a discussion on reducing aircraft emissions but became a project directed solely at reducing pollution from older ground equipment owned by the airlines. State and local air pollution officials were so dissatisfied with the shift and the planned reductions for the equipment that they withdrew in late summer from what one called the "world's longest regulatory negotiation."
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That meant that what could have been a nationwide consensus on how to cut pollution at airports likely will become a state-by-state effort -- something the industry wanted to avoid.
The proposed agreement committed the industry to curbing emissions of oxides of nitrogen, or NOx, a major source of ozone pollutants, by 50 percent by 2010. It would cover 40,000 pieces of equipment made before 1999, such as fuel trucks, aircraft tugs and baggage carts that would have to be retired or retrofitted at about 50 airports in polluted areas of the country. Newer models already are regulated.
In a Nov. 22 letter to the FAA and EPA, state and local pollution officials said: "The final proposal offered this summer was inadequate in terms of scope and stringency and placed unacceptable constraints on state and local air agencies' abilities to protect the public from the adverse health impacts associated with aviation-related pollution." The letter expressed disappointment that "no progress was made concerning the primary objective of reducing aircraft emissions."
The two organizations representing states and localities -- State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials -- thought the industry offer would have made cuts that were not deep enough, at too few airports, and took too long to implement.
They also worried that the agreement would allow airlines to move "dirty" pieces of equipment to airports where pollution problems might not be as severe.
S. William Becker, executive director of the state and local regulatory groups, said the states wanted at least a 60 percent reduction in NOx emissions on the ground equipment. Becker said the states voted to pull out when they realized that the industry offer was a "take it or leave it" proposition. "We don't have the luxury of ignoring any major source of air pollution," he said.
State regulators have no authority over aircraft emissions, but they count them when they are developing plans to comply with Clean Air Act rules. The voluntary agreement was supposed to be a way to extract aircraft emission cuts that would avoid states, airlines and airports making individual deals, such as those struck in Texas, California and Massachusetts.