The Environmental Protection Agency has been asked to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from commercial aircraft. The airlines don't think it's necessary. We do.

As we reported recently in our news pages, seven states and cities and three environmental groups have filed petitions seeking the EPA action. This cannot have been a surprise to anybody in the airline business, because some of these same states and environmental groups won a Supreme Court decision earlier this year that classified CO2 and other greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

In that case (Massachusetts v. EPA if you care to look it up), the issue concerned the EPA's role in regulating CO2 emissions from cars and trucks.

It takes no leap of reasoning to apply the same logic to aircraft. (Note to cruise lines: Heads up.)

The airlines claim that further EPA regulation is unnecessary because they're already doing all they can to operate efficiently thanks to the high cost of fuel.

This is true, but only up to a point.

Admittedly, many of the things that the EPA could require to reduce emissions are already being done to conserve fuel, such as taxiing on one engine, using ground-based power sources at airport parking stands, flying more efficient routings, reducing aircraft weight and so on.

In short, the airlines, driven by necessity, have already done a great deal to reduce their fuel consumption. 

But fuel conservation isn't the same thing as reducing emissions. Other procedures and technologies may contribute to a reduction in CO2 and other emissions without necessarily reducing airline fuel bills.

As long as fuel prices remain high, we can count on the marketplace to do its job and discipline airline fuel consumption.

Controlling air pollution, however, is the job of the EPA, and the Supreme Court has ruled that this mandate includes CO2 emissions. The airlines' otherwise enviable record in fuel conservation and efficiency should not be allowed to obscure that fact.

Tokens

A cruise ship leaves San Diego for a 15-day Hawaii cruise, making landfall at Hilo on the Big Island after four days at sea. From there it visits Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the Kona Coast of the Big Island, putting in a total of 57 hours of port time in the 50th state before heading home.

On the way back, on the 14th day of the cruise, the ship, which operates under a foreign flag, stops at Ensenada, Mexico, for four hours (8 p.m. to midnight) before returning to San Diego.

Does this cruise comply with U.S. law? The U.S. is prepared to say it does not. That's an answer we might be able to live with if the U.S. wasn't also saying that the Ensenada stop has to span 48 hours.   

It has always seemed to us that determining whether a particular cruise itinerary complies with the spirit and letter of the 120-year-old Passenger Vessel Services Act involves more art than science, but the government's proposed 48-hour rule lacks both.

Four hours may be a token stop, but 48 hours is arbitrary and punitive. The government's proposal offers no justification for this number, and cruise lines would be right to fight it for that reason alone. 

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