For an organization as media savvy as the Environmental Protection Agency appears to be, its performance on the issue of lead in aviation gasoline would be laughable if it wasn't so infuriating.
Granted, there's no Love Canal on the horizon with the relatively small amount of lead (140,000 tons since aviation was born) airplanes have loosed to the atmosphere (followed quite quickly by the ground, mostly right around airports, lead being what it is and that's heavy). Indeed, EPA representative Glenn Passavant, who the agency has tasked with the microscopic issue (when compared with say, the millions of gallons of horribly toxic glycol flushed down sewers from airliner de-icing each year ) of explaining its position on 100 LL seemed to be minimizing its importance when he spoke at a seminar at AOPA Summit last week.
Well, as tiny as it is in EPA's grand scheme, the fate of leaded aviation fuel looms large to some people and it's worthy of adequate representation from the agency. So, when Passavant, who, as far as I know, is the first EPA employee to directly address pilots on this issue, declined my request for a one-on-one interview last Friday I was dumbfounded. He was fine to deliver a PowerPoint presentation (of which he didn't have extra copies) and field, with varying degrees of effectiveness in my opinion, questions from the pilots in the room, but when it came time to speak, through AVweb, to those who couldn't make it to Long Beach, he refused. He said media requests had to go through the communications department in Washington.
So, we jumped through that hoop and were ultimately referred to the agency's Web site, which in no way answers the questions I wanted to ask Passavant. For instance, when a pilot suggested the elimination of lead in aviation fuel by the EPA was a "foregone conclusion," which virtually everyone in aviation believes is true, why did he take such pains to dispel that notion? I also wanted to know why there is no timeline. How does that help us plan? Are we OK to dither and gab and generally do nothing for five years, 10 years, 40 years or is the hammer going to drop in six months?
Something that's interesting to note is that Passavant, who heads EPA's "non road" department, wasn't always so closed-mouth. He was downright forthcoming in an interview with GA News a year ago, in which he suggested that eliminating lead altogether might not be necessary.
"No one says we must go to a zero lead fuel," GA News quotes him as saying. "If there are going to be multi-billion dollar effects, there must be another way to do it. Let's come up with a creative solution." It would be interesting to know what Friends of the Earth, whose petition launched the current discussion, has to say about that.
The comment may actually explain why Passavant is no longer free to speak to the media. But if he can't, the EPA should make sure it sends along someone who can keep him out of trouble when he's out in public. These are serious issues worth, as he suggests, billions of dollars, not to mention tens of thousands of jobs and the personal investment of hundreds of thousands of people. They deserve more than a "no comment" when the questions can't be answered from the script.