EPA defends action on leaded avgas

August 2, 2012

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defended its course of action on leaded avgas in July, urging the court to dismiss a lawsuit designed to push the agency toward proposing emissions standards for lead from general aviation aircraft.

The agency filed a motion for summary judgment on the suit, which alleged that the EPA had unreasonably delayed responding to a 2006 petition by environmental group Friends of the Earth asking it to rule that the GA lead emissions endanger the public health and then to propose emissions standards under the Clean Air Act. The EPA hasn’t delayed responding to the petition, it said in the filing with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia; on the contrary, it is engaging in the “rigorous scientific inquiry that necessarily must precede a scientifically sound and legally defensible determination regarding whether lead emissions from aircraft engines pose an endangerment.”

The EPA affirmed that it would not initiate rulemaking at this time to establish the standards because it doesn’t have data to support an endangerment finding. It outlined its actions over the past several years to gather information to inform a decision and said such a determination could take up to three years, until mid- or late 2015—or later, depending on other agency priorities.

Then, if the agency does find that lead emissions from GA aircraft may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare, the EPA, working with the FAA would develop lead emissions standards, culminating in the FAA being responsible for establishing standards for piston-engine aircraft fuel to control lead emissions. AOPA and the GA Avgas Coalition, which has been providing industry input for the transition to an unleaded fuel, has often emphasized that such a regulatory process would involve many steps—and that the immediate availability of 100LL is not in danger.

The Friends of the Earth’s 2006 petition asked the EPA to issue an endangerment finding or, if it doesn’t have enough information to do so, study the health and environmental impacts of lead emissions from aircraft. Finding little available data on the impact of lead emissions, the EPA chose the latter route. It solicited public comment on a wide range of issues, including 22 specific topics, in a 2007 Federal Register notice, it said in the filing. Commenters and investigators in the United States and abroad provided little data; even the Friends of the Earth admitted in comments that it could not find relevant studies. So, the EPA set out to develop and evaluate an air quality modeling approach to understand the effects of lead on communities near airports.

The EPA outlined how it has continued to develop its modeling approach, conducted demographic analyses to evaluate the numbers of people potentially exposed to lead emissions, and added monitoring requirements to gather data on ambient levels of lead in the air. The agency detailed the information that was available, described the information it was collecting, and asked for public comment in a 2010 advance notice of proposed rulemaking.

The agency provided its final decision in response to the 2006 petition July 19, shortly before it filed a motion for summary judgment. It declined to determine whether lead from piston-engine aircraft endanger the public health, opting instead to “develop and evaluate relevant science and technical information, and at a later date make a scientifically-sound determination—following a notice and comment proceeding”—on the issue.

AOPA has been working with industry groups, as well as the EPA and the FAA, to facilitate the development and deployment of unleaded avgas; the Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee, a group formed at the urging of the GA Avgas Coalition, recently provided recommendations on the subject.