The U.S. House of Representatives helped stoke a threatened trade war with Europe, passing legislation October 24 that would prohibit U.S. aircraft operators from participating in the European emissions trading scheme (ETS). The quarrelsome chamber exhibited rare unanimity in approving the bipartisan European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act “overwhelmingly” by voice vote.
“This appropriately named EU scheme is an arbitrary and unjust violation of international law that disadvantages U.S. air carriers, threatens U.S. aviation jobs and could close down direct travel from many central and western U.S. airports to Europe,” said Republican Rep. John L. Mica, chairman of the House Transportation Committee and the bill’s chief sponsor.
The House bill would need approval by the Senate and signature by President Obama to become law. Major U.S. environmental groups opposed the legislation and warned of deteriorating international relations. “With the global economy already in intensive care, this is no time to invite a transatlantic trade war,” said the Natural Resources Defense Council. In a blog post, the Environmental Defense Fund also protested the U.S. legislation. “The EU law that the House voted to block is a modest, non-discriminatory first step to tackling pollution from airlines, and was enacted several years ago after countries spent a dozen years failing to agree on a program in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to cut carbon pollution,” it said.
Despite mounting international pressure, the EU indicated it would not relent on imposing emissions taxes on foreign carriers starting January 1. “We are confident that the U.S. will respect EU law, as the EU always respects U.S. law,” Danish politician Connie Hedegaard, EU commissioner for climate action, wrote in a tweet following the House vote. “Why else would U.S. airlines have brought the issue to court?”
Hedegaard referenced a 2009 appeal of the ETS brought by American, United and Continental Airlines and the Air Transport Association (ATA), originally in the UK, the EU member state to which U.S. carriers most frequently fly. On October 6, the advocate general of the European Court of Justice issued a provisional ruling denying the appeal. The ruling disappointed not only the ATA but also the International Air Transport Association (IATA). While supportive of measures to reduce aviation emissions, IATA said emissions trading or any other approach “must be a global scheme under the leadership of ICAO.”