The Calif. Avgas Suit -- Follow The Money?

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The Center for Environmental Health and the Attorney General of the State of California are threatening to sue local FBOs and suppliers for dispensing leaded avgas, and shutting down small GA in the state is only one potential outcome. The suit's origins stem from the California Safe Drinking Water & Toxic Enforcement Act (Prop 65). Prop 65 is meant to safeguard people from dangerous toxins that could lead to birth defects and illnesses. But in light of federal interests (the FAA and EPA's control of air safety and environmental protection, respectively), restricting or altering the use of leaded avgas in California may not be the immediate, or likely, outcome of this case. And more likely outcomes may suggest other motives. Click here to listen to AVweb's conversation with NATA's Vice President of Government and Industry Affairs, Eric Byer, and Andy Steinberg, NATA's acting attorney on this case.

There are more than 250 public-use airports in California used by nearly 100,000 local pilots flying more than 35,000 aircraft that burn leaded avgas. According to Byer, GA represents more than 80 percent of operations state-wide, helping employ 1.7 million people generating $18 billion. Those numbers create an industry that brings jobs and substantial cash flow into the state's cash-strapped economy. Shutting down or negatively impacting that industry could add a new wrinkle to the state's current budgetary concerns. But many suits based on Prop 65 settle. And while in this case that could do little to alter the use of leaded avgas in the state, it could mean that aviation entities would pay a relatively small fine -- and pay the other side's potentially generous legal fees -- to prevent more drastic measures. In that case, seeking to enforce Prop 65 could produce an outcome that fails to change how pollutants are delivered into the environment and delivers financial gain to the entity that brought the suit. Meanwhile, actually enforcing Prop 65 such that it restricts delivery of lead into the environment through aviation fuel could prove economically disastrous for the state. It could also open a gateway to the creation of a different set of rules regarding the use of avgas, for each state in the country.