Airlines Feel Pressure As Pollution Fight Takes Off

The rapid proliferation of flights worldwide is spurring governments, environmentalists and aviation officials to confront the airline industry's increasing contribution to pollution—whether from jet emissions or the mountains of trash generated by travelers. The long-term consequences for airlines could include obstacles to airport expansion, caps on emissions and extra taxes on passenger and cargo flights. The European Union is working on a plan to charge airlines for carbon-dioxide emissions starting about 2011. In the U.S., a national organization of local environmental offices sued the Environmental Protection Agency in October over what it claims are lax aviation-pollution standards. The U.S. airline industry—airports and air carriers—discards enough aluminum cans each year—4,250 tons in 2004—to build 58 Boeing 747 jumbo jets, according to the NRDC, an environmental nonprofit organization. The industry also discarded 9,000 tons of plastic and enough newspapers and magazines to fill a football field to a depth of 230 feet. For decades, debates over airline pollution were taken up chiefly by people who lived near airports and focused on aircraft noise, local air quality and property values. As climate concerns rise, along with recognition of landfill and other pollution issues, few industries are being let off the hook.

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