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House to vote on bill that tries to move us closer to a trade war with the EU over aviation's carbon pollution: bill should be rejected

Jake Schmidt

Posted October 24, 2011 in Solving Global Warming

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The House is scheduled to vote today on HR 2594 which would seek to stop the European program to control aviation’s carbon pollution and push the U.S. closer to a trade war with Europe.  This bill should be rejected by the House, never even considered by the Senate, and rejected by the Obama Administration.  Now is not the time to start a trade war with Europe.

The bill would tell the U.S. government to work with U.S. companies to break another country’s law.  And it tells the U.S.-based airlines to break the law in another country.  Could you imagine the outrage if another country told its companies to break the U.S. law when they operate in the U.S.?  Well that is exactly what this law directs the U.S. government and U.S.-based carriers to do – break the law.  That isn’t a principle that the U.S. should implement.  Here is what the bill says:

“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…

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.” 

This is not a vote for or against action on global warming –  it’s a vote to tell U.S. companies to break the law in another country and move the U.S. closer to a trade war.  Proponents of this bill are outlining many mistruths (for a more extensive rebuttal see here or for the top myths about the EU program see here). 

  1. The Europeans 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.  After this failure, Europe took the reasonable step of passing a law to require carbon pollution reductions from flights that use European airports.  The Europeans tried to get a global solution, but a global solution never materialized.
  2. European program is legal.  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”.  In fact, a preliminary court finding from the EU courts has found that the law is legal.
  3. The EU program will not lead to massive price increases and will not have huge impacts on airline travel and the airline industry.  When the European’s had this system independently evaluated they found that the program would add a mere $11-57 to a roundtrip ticket – less for shorter flights.  On a ticket that easily costs $800-1400 this is a very marginal price change.  In fact, it is about the same as the price that airlines charge per checked bag on a domestic flight in the US – which is typically $20 per bag.  Instead the E.U. program will provide an incentive for airlines to find the best way to reduce their fuel use and encourage them to purchase the most efficient aircraft that are already rolling off the production line.  These are investments that will spur savings to American consumers as US-based carriers improve the efficiency of their aged fleet.
  4. 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.
  5. The European program regulates only 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 completely exempts foreign carriers whose own governments take any comparable measures.  But rather than clean up carbon pollution here at home, the House wants to prohibit American carriers from complying with other countries’ laws.

What proponents fail to acknowledge is that the only thing this bill will do is move the U.S. closer to a trade war with one of our major trading partners.  Given the state of the economy why would the U.S. want to risk such an outcome?

This bill is wrong and should be rejected by the House and never taken up by the Senate.  It will move the U.S. closer to a trade war with Europe and tell U.S. companies to ignore E.U. laws when they operate at European airports.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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