House Oversight Hearing: How Leaded Aviation Fuel Is Poisoning America’s Children

An important hearing was held today at the Environment Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Representative Ro Khanna. Both FAA and EPA were asked to attend; they both refused to attend. No surprises there… failure hates to confront accountability.

The hearing is well worth a listen. It ran for 106-minutes, but your listening time is actually only 76-minutes, due to a full 30-minute recess (starts at minute-24, and you can skip ahead to minute-54) for a House Vote. A general timeline follows at the bottom of this post.

One interesting twist to ponder… so, as mentioned at the Hearing, FAA refused to show when invited. Where were they? Well, it so happens today is the middle of the week for the biggest General Aviation (GA) event of the year: AirVenture at Oshkosh, WI. Yes, FAA will have MANY officials rubbing elbows with the mostly recreational-flying community, as they celebrate their rights and freedoms at Oshkosh, but our national regulator cannot find even one FAA official to appear at this hearing. And, the interesting twist… well, as testimony to how FAA is deploying its ‘delay-delay-delay’ tactic, check out FAA’s PDF of their PAFI presentation at Oshkosh this same week 6-years ago, on July 26, 2016. Back then, FAA sent a team to present to pilots, letting them know how hard FAA was working (budget ~$6M per year, thank you Congress!) to safely and quickly achieve the end of leaded fuels. Within the PDF it declares goal was implementation by 2018. Um, that was how many years before how many pandemics and how many insurrections?

And, wouldn’t it be interesting to know just one short set of figures:

  1. how many gallons of leaded fuel were consumed for flying to and from (and at) this year’s AirVenture in Oshkosh?
  2. how many aircraft flew to and departed from the AirVenture event this year, and what is their composition, in terms of how many must burn leaded fuel versus how many can burn unleaded fuel or leaded, versus how many can burn ONLY unleaded fuel?
  3. can we have a short list of all aircraft types within each of the three categories listed above?
  4. similarly, can we have a short list of all aircraft engine models that are lead-only, versus lead or no-lead, versus unleaded only?
  5. and, lastly, can we include on the above two lists the year of introduction for each aircraft type and engine type?

The last item on this list would be fascinating to learn. Is it possible, in the roughly thirty years FAA has had to ‘fail’ to phase out lead, that nonetheless FAA has successfully certified numerous NEW aircraft types and NEW engine types that must burn leaded fuel, only perpetuating the problem … and just how messed up is that, from an environmental justice and health perspective?

What was my read?

As an ‘overall view’, I found it interesting AND VERY CLEAR that (R)’s tended to be on the side of aviation and commerce, while (D)’s were pushing to clean this up. No surprise there, given recent history. Just as interesting, clearly, D’Acosta was the mouthpiece (sort of the Giuliani?) for the (R)’s to bounce questions off, all aimed at legitimizing this ongoing failure… or, at least, aimed at suckering regular people into believing the lie that FAA and industry are actually making progress. It’s all smoke and mirrors and lots of delay.

Other Activist Views:

During the preparation of this Post, other activists shared a few good thoughts:

  • Cindy Chavez deserves a National award!
  • Does anyone know how to obtain a copy of the AOPA letter Herrell entered into the record? Her opening statements regarding GA had more to do with fire-fighting and life flight whereas the complaints filed by the public are much more focused on flight training and private pilots. As far as the economic benefits of GA, it’s a heavily subsidized industry. If it was a good business investment then why the chronic dependence on public handouts? I’d rather see my taxpayer dollars spent on jobs focused on environment safeguards, reducing global  warming, education, health care, parks and the arts as well as high speed rail.
  • Democrats and Republicans have very different reasons for wanting to issue subpoenas. A lot of politics involved. That being said, both parties seem to be frustrated by the FAA and EPA foot-dragging. Flood’s comment on EPA top down decision-making regarding an endangerment finding or leaded fuel ban is preposterous. If any sector engages in a top down approach its the FAA and the aviation industry.
  • Both Khanna and Lofgren called the avgas issue a national health crisis. There was a declaration of this nature made during the Flint water crisis and a lot of bottled water was shipped in as a result, but how replace lead polluted air?
  • Dr. Lanphear referred to it as an urgent public health problem. Tlaib also emphasized the need for a greater sense of urgency as children are being poisoned now. Lofgren described the RHV lead study findings as “terrifying.” Both she and Khanna spoke of being outraged by the ongoing inaction. Like Lofgren, I’m appalled that the FAA would tell communities they have to continue poisoning children due to grant assurances.

Hearing Timeline: (…times PDT)

~1106: Rep. Ro Khanna (D, CA Dist.17) chair, opening statement.

1111: Rep. James Comer (R, KY Dist.1), brief statement handing off to Rep Herrell.

1113: Rep. Yvette Herrell (R, NM Dist.2) member. Opening statement; she read off the debatable pro-aviation points so often pushed by FAA and industry, while ignoring the impacts. But, on a positive note, she did say the committee needs to issue subpoenas for FAA and EPA.

1117: Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D, CA Dist.19) her district includes KRHV.

1119: witnesses sworn in

1119: Cindy Chavez (Santa Clara County supervisor): discussed KRHV scope, lead history, efforts eliminate lead, role of industry lobbyists to block health initiatives, etc.

1124: Maricela Lechuga: lives 5-blocks from KRHV. Family history, historical context of Mexicans having East San Jose available for housing. Impacts of proximity to airport, to the point of not even being allowed to grow trees to offer shade for children.

1129: recess for voting at Congress. Reconvened at 11:59 PDT. (recess was for a vote related to semiconductor chips)

1200: Bruce Lanphear presented short video about impacts of lead on growing children, loss of IQ score even for very lead pollution levels. Also, increased ADHD incidence, increased risk of heart disease. Airborne lead: aviation produces ~70% of total pollution; particles are much smaller than lead particles associated with old-paint lead.

1206: George Braly, chief engineer at GAMI. Link to an AOPA article dated 7/21/21. “It’s just amazing, the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that has gone on….” He believes FAA is in defiance of Congress, in its failure to act, failure to even communicate.

1212: Chris D’Acosta, CEO of swift Fuels. Link to an AOPA article dated 11/11/13 when FAA approved use of Swift’s unleaded fuel.

1218: Rep. Khanna recognized self for 5-minutes of questions:

  • Supervisor Chavez, would you say lead is an environmental justice issue?
  • Lechunga, Do you feel your comment has received the concern and action it deserves?
  • further questions to Mr. Braly, Supervisor Chavez,…

1224: Rep. Herrell recognized. Offered AOPA written statement into the record. Series of Q&A to Mr. D’Acosta. Herrell: “It’s obviously a very robust process.”

1229: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D, MI Dist.13) member. Concerns about what she has learned about impacts in Detroit area airports. Question to Mr. Lanphear, about the ‘cost’ of lead on IQ and health. Question to Supervisor Chavez.

1235: Rep. Pat Fallon (R, TX Dist.4) recognized. Asked Mr. D’Acosta to detail history on PAFI and EAGLE fuel programs. Video cut out before end. Links to background info…

  • PAFI White Paper (FAA, no date, 4p) at link. (download saved)
  • FAA’s webpage about Eagle Initiative at link. (PDF printed)

1241: Re. Lofgren recognized. Thank you to Supervisor Chavez. One question to Professor Lanphear, regarding blood level study. Expressed outrage over DoT Secretary not replying to letter from Congressional reps; “Hopefully we will get some action from this administration that is sorely lacking.”

1246: Rep. Mike Flood (R, NE Dist.1) Concerns about impact on agriculture (spray planes) if leaded fuel was disallowed. Questions to D’Acosta. At 12:50, at end of Rep. Flood’s time, Mr. D’Acosta asked to clarify on aircraft types.

1251: Closing comments by Rep. Khanna, noting that House Reps have 5-days to submit written materials. Adjourned at 1252.


REFERENCE MATERIALS: (more to be added as found later)