Yesterday in the sweltering heat of Washington, DC Members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation which would seek to stop the European program to Picture of an airplanecontrol aviation’s air pollution.  The bill is another backward attempt by the House to undermine efforts to control the carbon pollution that is causing global warming.  This bill should be rejected by the House, never even considered by the Senate, and rejected by the Obama Administration as unhelpful to its effort to be a leader in addressing global warming.

Representatives Mica (R-FL), Rahall (D-WV), Petri (R-WI), Costello (D-IL), Hultgren (R-IL), Duncan (R-TN), Shuster (R-PA), Richardson (D-CA), Holden (D-PA), Pierluis (D-Puerto Rico) introduced the new bill – the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011The name of the legislation describes the crazy idea behind this bill: it would attempt to prohibit another country from taking reasonable steps to control carbon pollution.  That isn’t a principle for which the American people stand – we don’t challenge another country for addressing major environmental challenges facing humanity.  We stand for leadership and action to address major challenges.  This legislation would take us backward. 

All of these same Members voted against the House climate bill which would have controlled aviation’s carbon pollution in a very similar manner to the European program – except Rep. Richardson, Hultgren (not in office)*, and Pierluis (doesn’t vote)**.  All of these members, except Rep. Richardson, also voted to strip EPA of their legally required mandate to control carbon pollution from the largest polluting sources.  With the odd exception of Representatives Richardson and Pierluis these are all Members of Congress that are opposed to any action to address climate change based upon their voting records. 

These Members have also received large donations from the airline industry over their career, according to Center for Responsive Politics (career totals; rank for the aviation industry in the  Members top contributors by sector): Mica ($642,993; #1); Rahall ($258,007; #4; Petri ($393,365; #1); Costello ($446,650; #4); Duncan ($526,008; #1); Shuster ($119,250; #11); Richardson ($99,500; #4); and Holden ($176,149; #15).  So it isn’t a surprise that they supported this, especially since the Air Transport Association – and its member airlines – strongly supported this legislation.      

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There are too many mistruths in the press conference and the bill to rebut, but let’s quickly review some the facts (for a more extensive rebuttal see my commentary on language in the FAA reauthorization bill which had very similar language to this new bill). 

  1. The European’s waited 15 years for a global solution which never materialized so they acted.  For almost 15 years the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – the U.N. body tasked with coordinating international aviation – has failed to come up with mandatory global actions to significantly reduce aviation’s carbon pollution.  The Europeans invested major time and resources in the effort through ICAO to get a global solution.  After this failure, Europe took the reasonable step of introducing legislation within their legal system to require carbon pollution reductions from flights that use European airports.  So claims that the European system is a unilateral overreach are false.  They tried to get a global solution.  But after years and years of waiting a global solution never materialized.
  2. European program is legal.  The Air Transport Association and US-based airlines challenged this program in a European Court.  A number of countries and environmental groups – some in the US – have intervened opposed to the airlines court case.  The court is set to decide later this year, but independent assessments have concluded that the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation in the EU’s program: “is consistent with all relevant international provisions and therefore permissible under international law”.
  3. US companies are already competing to produce better airplanes.  US-based aircraft and engine manufacturers are already making strides to produce more efficient airplanes.  Boeing and Pratt & Whitney tout the fuel saving benefits of their aircraft and engines.  Claims of harm just don’t stack up when US-based aircraft manufacturers are already competing to produce aircraft that use less fuel and emit less carbon pollution.
  4. European program regulates all carriers that use their airports.  They aren’t applying an arbitrary program targeted at the US or one that is different for flights from another country.  Their program applies the same standard for all flights that land at and take-off from European airports – regardless of where that flight takes off.  Indeed the EU program allows flights to/from a country to be excluded if they have an “equivalent measure” that reduces aviation’s carbon pollution.  They provide a way out – take action at home to control pollution. 

So this bill is wrong on policy, legal, and environmental grounds.  It is a short bill, but here is the meat of what it would direct the US government to do and what this means (my comments in italics).

“The Secretary of Transportation shall prohibit an operator of a civil aircraft of the United States from participating in any emissions trading scheme unilaterally established by the European Union”. 

This provision would basically require the US government to tell its companies not to comply with another countries’ law.  This is a principle which the US government wouldn’t allow for companies from another country that operate in the US.  Instead, when a flight takes off from Europe to the US it has to comply with US safety restrictions if it is to land in the US.  The European program is no different.  Any airline that wants to use European airports must comply with EU law requiring that they reduce their carbon pollution.

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“The Secretary of Transportation, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, and other appropriate officials of the United States Government shall use their authority to conduct international negotiations and take other actions necessary to ensure that operators of civil aircraft of the United States are held harmless from any emissions trading scheme unilaterally established by the European Union.” 

The language would task the US government to negotiate on be
half of the US-based carriers to take all necessary actions to ensure that the airlines aren’t impacted by the European law.  Of course, since the EU program will drive innovation, efficiency improvements, and purchases of new aircraft with reduced fuel use (and that American companies are already producing), the claim that it will cause harm is a bit of a stretch.  In fact, independent analysis conducted for the EU found that the cost of a roundtrip ticket could increase by a mere $11 – 57 per roundtrip between the US and Europe.  This is a very minor increase given that the airlines charge about the same amount for a passenger in the US to check bags.  So the claims of the US-based airlines that the sky will fall when the European program goes into effect next year are false.

This bill should stay stuck in the runway with a permanent delay.  This bill should be rejected by the House, never even considered by the Senate, and rejected by the Obama Administration as unhelpful to its efforts to be a leader in addressing global warming.  Instead, Congress and the Administration should take up the European offer to consider an equivalent set of measures that the US will adopt at home to reduce aviation’s carbon pollution.  So instead of saying “stop what you are doing”, we should be saying “here is what we are doing” to control the carbon pollution from aviation.


* Rep. Hultgren (R-IL) has stated: “I don’t believe we have a significant impact on climate change.”  So it is very likely that he would have voted against that bill if he were in office.  He signed the American’s for Prosperity pledge to not control carbon pollution.

** Puerto Rico representatives don’t vote on such legislation.

Picture courtesy of Creative Commons: ReneeS.