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Obama to set first-ever climate rules for airlines

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President Obama's new greenhouse gas emissions standards would apply to new aircraft and those in production. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The Obama administration took the first step Monday to set fuel-efficiency standards for airplanes with 21 other countries, as part of the president's goal of reaching the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions he agreed to in December.

"We think it is a big deal, a big step forward," said a senior administration official on a call with reporters, announcing the deal.

The standard was set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, of which the U.S. is a member. The standards are part of a market-based mechanism to reduce emissions that the group is still developing. The mechanism will be finished later this year.

The fuel-efficiency standards apply to new aircraft designs and those that are in production. It will not apply to the existing aircraft. The standards set a target of reducing emissions 33 percent for airplanes in production, starting in 2023. New models would need a 36-percent cut in emissions starting in 2020.

The White House officials on the call said the new standards will help the U.S. meet the 26-28 percent reduction in emissions by 2025 that the administration signed onto in the deal with almost 200 countries in Paris.

"When fully implemented, the standards are expected to reduce carbon emissions more than 650 million tons between 2020 and 2040, equivalent to removing over 140 million cars from the road for a year," a White House fact sheet says.

The White House points out that commercial aircraft represent 11 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector. Many scientists blame greenhouse gas emissions for driving manmade climate change.

"Without additional action, emissions from the aviation sector are projected to grow by nearly 50 percent," the fact sheet says. "That is why, for more than five years, the United States has played a leadership role in developing these standards" under the International Civil Aviation Organization process and will support efforts to cut emissions further.

EPA is expected to finalize its endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions from commercial airliners this summer, the White House says. The finding represents the final step EPA must take before regulating aircraft emissions.