GAO Reports That FAA’s “Voluntary Airport Low Emissions” Program Has Yet To Meet Expectations

The GAO released its Report to Congressional Committees on the FAA’s “Voluntary Airport Low Emissions” (VALE) program on November 10, 2008.  Entitled Aviation and the Environment:  Initial Voluntary Low Emissions Program Projects Reduce Emissions, and FAA Plans to Assess the Program’s Overall Performance as Participation Increases, the GAO reports on how the VALE has been implemented and the outcomes attributable to it.

In 2003, Congress established VALE to reduce airport ground emissions at commercial service airports in areas failing to meet or maintain air quality standards.  FAA administers the program and provides funding for it through Airport Improvement Program grants or Passenger Facility Charges.  Participating airports receive credits for the emission reductions achieved through VALE projects.  Airports can then use these credits to offset emissions resulting from development projects to comply with federal Clean Air Act requirements.

The GAO reports that as of September, 2008, only 9 of the 160 airports that were eligible had or were planning to initiate a VALE project.  Those airports are:

  • Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston, TX
  • Hobby Airport, Houston, TX
  • Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Detroit, MI
  • Erie International Airport, Erie, PA
  • Greater Rochester International Airport, Rochester, NY
  • Albany International Airport, Albany, NY
  • Stewart International Airport, Newburgh, NY
  • Westchester County Airport, White Plains, NY
  • Philadelphia International Airport, Philadelphia, PA

Although FAA expects participation in VALE to increase as more airports become familiar with the program, GAO reported that non-participating airports stated they were aware of the program, but did not want to participate.  One reason for the lack of participation is that some airports have a misperception that VALE projects compete with other projects for AIP funding, thereby limiting the funds an airport could receive for other projects.  VALE projects, however, are funded through discretionary AIP set-aside for noise and emission projects.

This is not to say that VALE is not without success. Houston Hobby Airport and Bush Intercontinental Airport have both taken advantage of the program to obtain emission credits for planned construction projects.  Likewise, Philadelphia International Airport plans to use the program to satsify CAA conformity requirements to offset emissions produced in the constructionof its ongoing capacity enhancement project.

Despite the marked lack of participation, FAA seeks to use VALE as a “new model for government efforts to promote clean fuels and technology.”  For this reason, the FAA and the GAO point out that EPA is recommending in current proposed revisions to its General Conformity Regulations that the VALE system for granting emissions credits be expanded to all action subject to General Conformity Regulations.

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