If you've ever been confronted with an organization that drags its feet on addressing an issue, you know that getting a timetable and a target date means you're finally getting somewhere.


Such is the status of the environmental movement's multiyear effort to get the U.S. government to regulate emissions from commercial aircraft: it's finally getting somewhere, because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), after years of delay, finally gave itself a target date.

It was in 2007 that a coalition of environmental groups, and a separate coalition of U.S. states and cities, filed petitions asking the EPA to begin the process of setting emission standards.

In 2010 the environmental groups went to court to force the issue, claiming the EPA was dragging its feet. Two years later, the court said, no, the EPA isn't dragging its feet. That was 2012.

Fast forward two more years to last week, and we witness an EPA notice that it expects to adopt an aircraft CO2 emissions standard in February 2016.

It may appear that the wheels suddenly started turning again, but much has happened in the background, including a global effort by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to come up with some worldwide standards and prevent the European Union from unilaterally reimposing its (widely disliked) Emissions Trading Scheme on every airplane that comes anywhere near Europe.

It was in preparation for a meeting with ICAO's steering committee on the topic that the EPA published its target date, explaining that it intends to coordinate with ICAO and adopt "equivalent" standards.

The first step in that process is for the EPA to make a finding that CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft may pose a danger to public health or welfare. That is expected in April.

Seven years ago in this space (we checked), we took the position that it was time for the EPA to act. But we were wrong. The Bush administration wasn't much interested, the airlines were losing money and ICAO didn't have its act together. And for a global, high-altitude enterprise like commercial aviation, a multi-national effort is essential.

Things are different today. The world's governments, acting through ICAO, are committed to do something, the airlines are in a more receptive mode, and the E.U. still has the cudgel of its emissions trading scheme behind its back, which it has threatened to use if ICAO fails to adopt a program by 2016.

All of which explains why 2007 wasn't the time. Now is the time.
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