Pilots, airlines and airports are warning the government’s proposed environmental restrictions on deicing fluid used to keep planes from freezing up and crashing could pose serious safety risks.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal seeks to limit the amount of the toxic deicing fluid that trickles off of runways and into nearby streams and rivers, harming water quality.
Critics say the new rules would have an unintended consequence — imperiling airport safety. They say the record-setting blizzards that recently buried the East Coast show how unworkable the regulation would be during winter weather.
“The EPA must acknowledge … the environment cannot trump all other considerations,” a group representing airports said in February public comments to the rule.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates airports for safety considerations, has completed its own comments on the proposal, which it is preparing to send EPA, sources close to the situation say. Some FAA officials have expressed reservations about the rule in the past. The FAA declined to comment for this article.
In the meantime, EPA is considering the concerns carefully. EPA “is concerned about the safety of the traveling public and the operational challenges that airports and airlines face in efficiently serving air traveler,” an agency spokeswoman said, adding that EPA consulted the FAA before issuing the regulation.
EPA’s proposal requires large airports to collect 60 percent of the deicing fluids to keep them from draining off runways. It also sets a 25-gallon limit for the amount of fluid planes can use for taxiing and stipulations on special platforms for deicing and vehicles that can vacuum up the fluids before the escape from the runway.
One of the top concerns air officials have with the EPA’s proposal is that it will force airports to design runways and other facilities with environment as a top consideration rather than safety. They say EPA’s restrictions could also increase runway traffic, which would increase the risk of collisions.
“EPA … does not attempt to consider these safety imperatives and openly acknowledges that it did not gather sufficient information to evaluate these and other safety imperatives,” the Air Transport Association, which represents the airline industry, said in February comments to the proposal.
They argue the 25-gallon limit is far too little fluid for planes to taxi to their loading slots or other locations at the airport. Especially for a big plane such as a DC-10, taxiing with snow still on the plane could be dangerous or damage the plane, some airport officials say.
Officials at the Air Line Pilots Association wonder how they will follow both the FAA’s safety rules and the EPA’s proposed 25-gallon limit. “If the pilot-in-command does determine that additional [deicing fluid] is required, in excess of the allotted 25-gallons, will ground personnel be authorized to apply the requested additional fluid without penalty or a violation being levied against the airport or airline?” the pilots ask.
EPA did not respond to questions about the individual safety concerns raised by its critics.
In addition to the safety considerations, airlines say the regulation could make winter storms even more unbearable for travelers.
The airline industry says that delays from the proposal would be particularly pronounced at some of the busiest airports in the country where a huge number of delays already occur. But EPA, the officials say, didn’t consider delays in estimating the costs of the rule.
Continental airlines says passengers were already severely burdened by the winter storms this past season. A snowstorm in December resulted in nearly 45 percent of flights canceled at Continental’s Newark hub and 11,000 flights canceled.
“Continental will continue to work with the EPA on these issues, but does not believe that the proposed … regulations adequately allow feasible emergency actions taken,” the airline says.
EPA is also under fire from the air industry for appearing to favor environmental activists in what some call an unfair way.
Under the Administrative Procedure Act, regulations like EPA’s proposal are subject to public comment. Typically, a federal agency announces public comment period on a regulation during which anyone is free to send in in remarks.
According to an e-mail from environmentalists obtained by The Daily Caller, EPA took this process a step further and solicited comment from environmentalists.
“An EPA representative actually called me asking that we submit comments. The most helpful information they can receive is a waterbody specific account of how low dissolved oxygen affects your ecosystems,” the e-mail, which came from a local chapter in New Jersey of the activist group Waterkeeper.
One industry lawyer blasts the e-mail, saying EPA’s request is “unethical” and compares it to the Bush EPA asking for comment from industry officials, which he says never would have happened.
An environmentalist from the local Waterkeeper chapter that sent the e-mail confirmed its provenance but said such requests are typical.
“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily unusual, I mean we have open communication with the EPA. If they feel like they aren’t getting comments I don’t think it’s unusual they would look for comments,” the source says, “EPA — they see themselves as put in the middle between two competing groups. They had been getting a lot of comments from … airports and had not been getting a lot of comments from [environmentalists].”
The activist source also charged the Bush EPA routinely coordinated with industry officials. EPA did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.