U.S. House Passes Superfluous Bill to Stop Airlines from Complying with EU Law

Passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of S.1956, a bill authorizing the Secretary of Transportation to prohibit airlines from participating in the European Union’s anti-pollution law, is superfluous and sets a bad precedent for U.S. foreign relations, said Environmental Defense Fund. The U.S. Senate passed S.1956 in September.

The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 is unnecessary because last Friday, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set in motion a high-level political process aimed at agreeing, by October 2013, a global program for cutting aviation carbon pollution. Following ICAO’s announcement, the EU yesterday paused its own carbon pollution law, as nations develop a global alternative.

“Now that ICAO has moved into high gear its effort to get a global system for limiting aviation’s carbon pollution, and the EU has stopped its clock pending the ICAO outcome, at best this bill is simply superfluous,” said EDF’s International Counsel Annie Petsonk. “At worst, it undermines the respect that nations need to have for each other’s laws in a globalizing world.”

“President Obama signaled in his reelection acceptance speech that there is an opportunity for revitalized executive branch leadership on the challenge of climate change. The aviation question, one of the first climate issues after the elections, puts the spotlight on the White House, which will need to put significant political muscle into helping ICAO reach agreement on a worldwide approach to address aircraft emissions,” said Petsonk. “The airlines who lobbied so hard for enactment of this bill should join with environmentalists in agreeing on that global approach.”

The bill gives the Secretary of Transportation authority to prohibit U.S. airlines from complying with a European law requiring airplanes that land or take off from European airports to account for and limit their flights’ global warming pollution through an emissions trading system. The bill also requires the Secretary of Transportation to hold the airlines “harmless” of any costs, including both the costs of complying with the European law, estimated to be trivial, and the costs of not complying. The “hold harmless” provisions could launch a wholly unnecessary trade war and stick U.S. taxpayers with up to $22 billion in non-compliance costs.

Aviation is already the world’s seventh largest polluter, and if emissions from the industry are left unregulated, they’re expected to quadruple by 2050.

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