Airports: Meet the Environment

ACI-NA meeting highlights the growing role cost is playing in daily operations

SAN ANTONIO — Jessica Steinhilber, senior director of environmental affairs for Airports Council International-North America, points out that when she was hired four years ago she was the first staffer dedicated full time to the issue. “It’s a reflection of the industry, saying that environmental is so important that we want someone dedicated full time to working on it,” she says. During ACI-NA’s recent Environmental Conference held here in April, she sat with AIRPORT BUSINESS to discuss the major issues for airports related to the environment, and to talk about the growing role it is playing in the industry’s day to day life. Following are edited excerpts of that interview ...

AIRPORT BUSINESS: When you hear the words airport and environmental, characterize to me what that means today.

Steinhilber: The issue that I have is that every airport is so different, that the issues they’re dealing with on an environmental basis are so varied — based on the local concerns; the local environment. It’s why our committee is so broad on what they cover, because there are so many varying issues. Some airports, noise is the main issue; other airports, it’s air quality; water quality at another.
There’s obviously compliance, a basic level of what airports have to do environmentally. But beyond that, it’s really responding to what local concerns are.

AB: Should we also characterize it as a growing issue?

Steinhilber: The way I look at it is, airports have been fairly proactive on environmental issues for a while. Airports generally view themselves as an extension of the community; a government agency; public servants who are there to serve the community.

So, it’s responding to the community. Over the last few years environmental issues have come back to the forefront of issues of concern; airports have stepped up and are doing more pro-actively. But they’ve been doing this stuff for a while.

The other piece of it is, getting more information about what they’re doing. I think airports have been doing great stuff, they just haven’t been communicating it that well.

My position was created when I started in it. Even within ACI, it was shared with other issues. It’s a reflection of the industry, saying that environmental is so important that we want someone dedicated full time to working on it.

AB: What’s going on with CO2 regulation in D.C. that would affect airports?

Steinhilber: EPA recently finalized a mandatory reporting rule. There is a 25,000 metric ton threshold; if you have 25,000 metric tons or more, then you have to participate in this annual reporting. We think there’s somewhere in the range of ten to 20 airports that might meet that threshold, but it’s difficult for us to know. We’re saying, airports you need to look and see exactly what sources you have at your airport and whether or not you meet the threshold.

Many of the larger airports are going to have to do some kind of inventory anyway to figure out whether or not they meet the threshold.

AB: Then there’s the issue of EPA’s new deicing guidlines.

Steinhilber: In August, EPA proposed regulations to address the runoff from deicing; the comments on that were due February 26.

Our position is basically that, as proposed, EPA has underestimated what the cost is going to be to industry, and they haven’t fully considered what the operational and safety impacts of what they’ve proposed will be. And, we don’t think the rule has the commensurate environmental benefits that should be seen with the amount of cost that the rule will impose.

AB: Did they in fact do a cost/benefit analysis?

Steinhilber: Not a cost/benefit analysis; but they did look at the cost [by way of technical criteria]. They concluded that it’s going to cost the industry about $91 million a year, and that’s over 20 years and includes both the capital and O&M costs of what they’re proposing. We think that that is significantly underestimating the actual cost.

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