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Environmental Impacts of Airport Operations, Maintenance, and Expansion

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Funding authorization for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs set forth in the Vision 100 -- Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (P.L. 108-176, hereafter referred to as Vision 100) are set to expire at the end of FY2007. During the current reauthorization process, methods to address the environmental impacts associated with airport operations and expansion are likely to be debated. This issue is important to various stakeholders, particularly those whose health, property values, and quality of life may be affected by such impacts. The concerns of community members and local, state, and tribal agencies regarding environmental impacts have led to the delay and cancellation of some airport expansion projects.

To address these concerns, airports may be required to implement projects that would minimize the environmental impacts of their operations. Some of these projects qualify for federal funding. For example, in its FY2008 budget, the FAA requested $354 million to meet its "Environmental Stewardship" goals. Projects funded under this category address the environmental impacts of airports, primarily to abate airport noise (e.g., soundproofing homes, purchasing noise barriers and monitors, and relocating persons or businesses). Among other uses, funds may be spent on projects to minimize water quality impacts (e.g., funding projects that would control the discharge of deicing chemicals) and to reduce airport-controllable air emissions (e.g., purchasing alternative fuel vehicles to replace the airport's ground services equipment). Funds also are authorized for researching new aircraft technology that would reduce noise and air emissions.

The anticipated growth in air travel has heightened the significance and complexity of some environmental regulatory issues. Also, several new requirements are expected to affect airport operations (in terms of procedural changes and potential investment in infrastructure). The most significant issues include changes to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards applicable to deicing operations and oil spill prevention procedures, as well as state and local agency directives to monitor and control air pollution, particularly toxic air pollutants.

On February 14, 2007, the FAA proposed legislation to reauthorize FAA funding (H.R. 1356, the Next Generation Air Transportation System Financing Reform Act of 2007). Environment-related provisions of the proposal would fund projects intended to minimize environmental impacts or help airports comply with regulatory obligations; fund environment-related research, such as new technology that would produce quieter, more fuel-efficient aircraft; and amend existing environmental regulatory requirements.

To better understand the need for funding environment-related airport projects and research, this report provides an overview of the main environmental impacts associated with airport operations: noise, water quality, and air quality. Also discussed are the environmental review requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and the environmental provisions in proposed legislation to reauthorize FAA programs.


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