House Bill Makes It Illegal for US Airlines to Comply With EU Emissions Laws

The House passed legislation last night that makes it illegal for US airlines to participate in the European Union’s cap-and-trade program, which goes into effect for the airline industry on January 1, 2012. 

The House passed the "European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011."

Under the program, airlines that land or take off at Europe’s airports will pay penalties if they produce emissions beyond their allotted limit. Those that reduce emissions below the cap can sell permits to more polluting companies. Proceeds are distributed to member states, which use the revenues to address climate change.

The cap-and-trade program, which has been operating for six years, covers many industries. The airline industry is the latest to be included – the largest industry after power plants – and is expected to raise ticket prices by $11-57 round-trip, depending on how far they exceed pollution limits.

The fee is about the same amount US airlines currently charge to carry luggage that exceed weight limits.

US airlines want to be exempt from the rules, and the Obama Administration has negotiated on their behalf, saying it should only apply to European airlines. The EU says it will go forward with its plan to include all airlines, however. The industry is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gases – having  doubled emissions over the past 20 years. Chinese airlines have also expressed opposition.

As of January 1, the airline industry – under the EU program – will have an upper limit of 213 million metric tons of carbon; it drops to 208.5 million tons in 2013.

"‘We are confident the U.S. will respect European law, as E.U. always respects U.S. law," says EU Commissioner Connie Hedegaard.

"The legislation tells US companies to break another country’s law. Could you imagine the outrage if another country told its companies to break a US law when they operate here?"  says Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

US airlines filed a lawsuit in the European Court of Justice to win exemption from the requirement, arguing their emissions between the US and Europe are released into international airspace.

In a preliminary judgment, the court ruled this month against the carriers, noting that cities and countries around the world  impose a variety of landing fees, and airlines that want to land at their airports have to pay them.

"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," says Schmidt. "These are investments that will spur savings to American consumers as U.S.-based carriers improve the efficiency of their aged fleet."

US airlines have been preparing to comply with the EU system, calculating flight emissions to establish a baseline, for example. They’ve been buying more efficient planes and testing biofuels. In August, President Obama announced a $510 million public-private partnership to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels.

The bill is the latest in over 160 votes taken by the Republican dominated House (over one vote each day) to eliminate environmental regulations.

Democrats were against the bill, and no companion bill has been introduced in the Senate.

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