Pollution flies out of airport
August 11, 2012
What is the point of hosting climate-change conferences here in Aspen if it does not motivate the local community, a community that boasts an environmental ethic, but a community that emits twice as many greenhouse gases per capita than anywhere else in the country?
People come from all over the world to Pitkin County to talk about how bad global warming is getting; for many, their gateway is our worst source of air and ground pollutants – the airport.
The 2007 Canary Initiative inventory tagged the airport as the single largest source of greenhouse emissions in the area, accounting for 41 percent. But to date, nothing has been done administratively to mitigate the airport’s pollution, and the county commissioners seem unconcerned about its impact at the public hearings on the airport expansion.
The 5 million gallons of aviation fuel sold at the airport annually produces 105 million tons of carbon dioxide, roughly the equivalent of the carbon footprint of 1.1 billion plastic grocery bags.
Air travel might be essential to Aspen, but jets burning 400 to 500 gallons an hour taxiing, taking off and landing leave behind thousands of tons of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds.
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Even though commercial aviation generates lower carbon dioxide per passenger mile, its total impact is substantial, and the lion’s share of the traffic at Sardy Field, private aircraft, generates much larger amounts.
A Canadian regional jet that flies from Los Angeles into Aspen, a distance of 732 miles by air, emits about 6.5 ounces of carbon dioxide per passenger-mile at 70 percent capacity: each passenger being responsible for almost 300 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
If a Gulfstream G IV flew the same trip with six of the nine seats on board filled (almost 70 percent), over three pounds of carbon dioxide would be emitted per passenger per mile or more than 2,200 pounds over the total distance, according to Aspen’s 2007 Canary Report.
For comparison: Cars that average 20 miles per gallon emit about 14.5 ounces per passenger mile (with no passengers). Driving the 901 miles from Los Angeles to Aspen alone would cause the car to emit 816.5 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Why not come up now with a pricing system for landing fees to offset the airfield’s present and future carbon footprint, based on pricing carbon emissions per passenger?
Revenues could be invested in alternative power for airport buildings, to buy support vehicles and auxiliary power units that run on clean fuels, for clean-fuel shuttle buses and taxis that only run to the airport, for technology that mitigates local noise and air pollution and a host of other alternative-fuel strategies that point the airport towards a carbon neutral footprint.
Federal law does not require a single rate setting approach for landing fees and allows those fees to be used to cover operating, capital and environmental costs.
Sardy Field could become a model for the greening of airports worldwide and Pitkin County could walk its talk.