Normally I write this blog as an outlet to share my personal aviation experiences, but sometimes it is important to discuss more critical issues.
Understand that I like living in a clean environment as much as the next guy. I appreciate clean air and water, and expect all global citizens do their part to ensure we that we pass that right along to our grandchildren. But is this organization another elitist group with a solution looking for a problem? The presupposition is that general aviation is a major contributor to the decline of the environment, through greenhouse gases and lead. Without any proof that a problem even exists, this organization seeks financial contributions under a 501c3 umbrella, espousing things like “electric flight”.
Their motto is: Bringing Stakeholders Together to Address Aviation’s Environmental Challenges. What environmental challenges? Where is the proof that such challenges even exist? Yeah I know, 100LL fuel; blah, blah, blah. There is NO proven environmental impact of 100LL. The amount of lead is one gallon of Avgas is just 2 grams. Now go outside and look up. How many piston-powered airplanes are directly over your house at this very moment?
Low-lead aviation fuel is consumed in minuscule quantities that are too low to measure. Cities like Santa Monica have been desperately trying for years to find a link between lead in the environment and general aviation, in order to justify closing their airport and turn it over to shopping mall developers.
The EPA is making noises that they may exercise their “prerogative” to issue administrative rules, without congressional oversight, to prohibit any and all use of 100LL Avgas. Not only would this ground all piston powered aircraft, rendering them essentially worthless, it would devastate an industry that is already in decline as a result of the economy. Tens of thousands of jobs nationwide would be eliminated. Needed services, such as Angel Flight, supply flights and commerce in general would come to a screeching halt, and 5,000 small communities that have an airport would suffer as a consequence.
According to the EPA, 200,000 small, piston aircraft burn just 190 million gallons of aviation fuel in an entire year. This is a literally a drop in the bucket compared to greenhouse gases contributed by power plants and automobiles. Removing lead from airplane fuel has been technically challenging, because infinitesimal amounts of Tetra ethyl lead prevents detonation and subsequently catastrophic failure in piston aircraft engines. They simply cannot function without the lubricating and cooling qualities of 100LL. The FAA has prohibited the use of ethanol laced auto fuel in aircraft due to safety concerns, so that is clearly not the answer.
Even their own flawed study, released by the City of Santa Monica, researchers had to hedge that their findings, admitting that high levels of lead in the atmosphere around the airport are not substantiated. Their statement regarding the link between environmental damage and 100LL is filled with such qualifiers. This is not scientific research; this is “sponsored” research seeking a desired outcome:
“It is relevant to note that the risk estimates and contaminant concentrations predicted in the assessment are estimates of exposure. Although there are uncertainties associated with discrete variates or assumptions (e.g., aircraft exhaust emission factors) used to perform the assessment, it is believed that attention to regulatory guidance and the use of relevant “tools” (i.e., conceptual and mathematical models) utilized to prepare the assessment provide for a “best estimate” of community-based exposures.”
In other words; “we *know* that there are elevated levels of lead in the air around an airport, but damn if we can prove it.”
Instead of demonizing general aviation and 100LL fuel, maybe we should be discussing the amount of lead in all the batteries being created as a byproduct of building electric vehicles. How about the dependence we have on “rare earth” metals controlled by China for their manufacture, or the extra coal being burned to create electricity to recharge electric vehicles? We should have a frank discussion about how we dispose of millions of used batteries coming out of electric vehicles, and the mercury in “environmentally safe” light bulbs. Or perhaps we should be discussing the ethanol fraud that requires billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidy and the consumption of 2 gallons of clean water to make just 1 gallon of ethanol. Ethanol produces only about 70% of the latent energy in a comparable amount of gasoline. Or how about the increasingly intensive use of tillable crop lands and fertilizers to grow ever larger amounts of corn for ethanol production at the expense of feeding people?
Looking over the most recent financials for the Lindbergh Foundation, they spent over 100% of their donated money and services on salaries and overhead. In my experience, previously having served as an officer of a 501(c)3, this is an abysmal record for any tax-exempt foundation, and should be a red flag to anyone considering contributions.
Look, I know it’s really cool and hip to be involved in the Green Movement. But that is purely an emotional play to raise money. If the private sector eventually finds a lighter, more efficient replacement for the internal combustion engine, I will happily get on board. Until then, call me skeptical of any groups that want to raise money under the guise of “protecting the environment”.