Washington has set itself the goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 15% from 1990 levels. Well, guess what? In 2018, the most recent GHG emissions numbers available from the Department of Ecology, we’re nowhere near those levels. On the contrary: they increased significantly.
In large part, this is due to increases in transportation emissions. Per a presentation to WSDOT’s Commercial Aviation Coordinating (Expansion) Commission (officially CACC), 75% stems from on-road transportation (gasoline and diesel) and 21% from jet fuel and aviation gas.
No wonder elected officials, including the governor and the Washington Transportation Committee, are promoting the transition from fossil fuel to electrification in the recently passed Transportation Bill ESSB 5689. But the governor and other bill proponents are very quiet about its continued funding for a site search in the Puget Sound region for a new SeaTac-sized airport, an airport of the highly polluting, jet-fuel-burning kind (see section 213, page 44 and section 707, page 142 of the bill as passed on March 10, 2022).
This amid a climate crisis and without meaningful pollution-reduction enforcement attached to the $3 to $4 billion of taxpayer (FAA) money eventually needed for such infrastructure. Again, the aviation industry is getting away with a free ticket. Its influence has gone too far for too long. As the SeaTac airport communities, such as the cities of SeaTac, Normandy Park, Tukwila, Des Moines and Beacon Hill know, there are very large gaps between airport benefits claimed and proven and accountability promised and delivered.
Many transportation sectors have made significant progress toward cleaner energy. The aviation industry has made some, but they are baby steps. As the 2022 report by the UN-sponsored International Project of Climate Change (IPCC) states in its footnote E.6.4 of the associated Summary for Policy Makers:
“Current sectoral levels of (emissions reduction) ambition vary, with emission reduction aspirations in international aviation and shipping lower than in many other sectors.”
Professional, independent measurements around Boston’s Logan and Los Angeles International airports (begun in 2012) make it quite clear that the industry is assaulting airport communities with day-in-day-out pollution, reducing public health and economic equity. King County’s Department of Health (in cooperation with the University of Washington) has reported similarly serious results for the SeaTac communities in December 2020 (see Seattle King County Public Health Report to Legislature response to HB 1109), but our legislators have seemingly ignored it so far.
Public health and equity need to become actionable decision criteria for where and how to allow commercial aviation growth.