U.S. House of Representatives Stokes Firestorm over Emissions Scheme

 - October 26, 2011, 10:15 PM
Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla), chairman of the House Transportation Committee

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.”



Let’s be frank – ALL the world’s airlines HAVE already registered (a handful “under protest” admittedly) for free allowances within the scope of the EU ETS aviation regulations; they have also invested in all the necessary monitoring and verification software to participate; most are already operating in the carbon market through both in-house and external systems, advisors and traders; and all the airlines of the 26 states who signed up to this pretty meaningless declaration have done so too without exception.

One or two airlines have already been fined by EU member state’s regulators for missing deadlines in the run-up to the ETS January 2012 start date, so perhaps now is a good time to remind airlines of the heavyweight, some might say draconian, financial penalties for any future non-compliance which could potentially bankrupt even the world’s largest airlines.

We know that airlines are very aware of these penalties and many of them have said publicly that they do not intend to break any ETS-related laws at several meetings and events I have attended, although they oppose the scheme.

There is a substantial degree of desperate last-minute posturing and grandstanding to try and avoid practical and fair market-based environment protection solutions from countries who should know better – the recent presentation to ICAO in Montreal from the EC’s Artur Runge-Metzger, International and Climate Strategy Director, easily found on the web, is a welcome and very clear explanation of where we are right now and why the EU ETS is a fair and equitable policy.

Using this scheme as the global model is the way forward. Countries trying to avoid the fairly “light touch” ETS regulation in this latest bit of institutionalised moaning, are misguided and out-of-touch with the reality of the urgent need for action to control and reduce the climate change impacts of civil aviation.

Which is all the more difficult to understand when many are in the frontline of the fight against climate change right now.

The EU is not going to capitulate and has the support of environment NGO’s everywhere – covering around a third of aviation’s global CO2 emissions is a stunning achievement and needs support and expansion, not arrogant whingeing from the industry’s flat earthers. If you can afford the price of a ticket, you can afford the cost of carbon.

Jeff Gazzard
Aviation Environment Federation