A federal court in the District of Columbia has ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have a duty to make endangerment findings for lead emissions from general aviation aircraft. Friends of the Earth v. EPA, No. 12-363 (D.D.C. 3/27/13).

The plaintiff environmental-interest organization had petitioned EPA in 2006 to rule that these emissions endanger public health and claimed that EPA’s failure to act was contrary to the Clean Air Act (CAA). The CAA requires the EPA administrator, “from time to time,” to “issue proposed emission standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class or classes of aircraft engines which in his judgment causes, or contributes to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” According to plaintiff, this requires EPA to determine “whether lead emissions from general aviation aircraft engines using aviation gasoline endanger the public health or welfare.” And plaintiff asked the court to order EPA to make such a finding.

The court found that the CAA provision did not impose an enforceable duty on EPA. Instead, it found, the statute mandates that EPA issue standards whenever EPA, in its discretion, makes an endangerment finding. Because the case focused on the discretionary action of making an endangerment finding, the court found that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the matter. The decision suggests that the court departed from the holding in Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA, 794 F. Supp. 2d 151 (D.D.C. 2011), in which a different CAA subsection was found to impose a nondiscretionary duty to make an endangerment decision regarding greenhouse gas emissions from non-road vehicles and engines.