U.S. House passes superfluous bill, EDF calls on airlines to help find global approach to reduce aviation emissions

The U.S. House of Representatives tonight passed a bill that authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to prohibit airlines from participating in the European Union's anti-pollution law. EDF called the bill superfluous — the EU yesterday paused its carbon pollution law that was the target of the U.S. bill — and warned it sets a bad precedent for U.S. foreign relations.

The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 at best is superfluous, and at worst undermines respect nations need to have for each other's laws, EDF's Annie Petsonk said after the House passed the bill. Photo credit

The EU paused its law following the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) setting in motion a high-level political process aimed at agreeing on a global program for cutting aviation carbon pollution by October 2013.

EDF’s International Counsel Annie Petsonk said in EDF's statement in the House:

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. 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.

The airlines who lobbied so hard for enactment of this bill should join with environmentalists in agreeing on that global approach.

The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 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.

Before the bill came to the House floor tonight, Petsonk talked to POLITICO, which reported:

Petsonk has long been predicting ICAO would be confronted with the decision, likening the process to past global environmental law cases that began with bilateral bickering but eventually spawned a global dialogue. That means the U.S. should not yet be patting itself on the back about forcing the EU’s hand.

“The EU didn’t say, ‘We’re ending the system.’ They said, ‘We’re giving the ICAO process time’” to work on the issue, Petsonk said.

That means congressional action on a bill that has been in a recess-induced lull for weeks is likely to pass Congress just days after the real progress was made internationally. “It’s like a Fifth of July firecracker,” Petsonk said of the bill.

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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