by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted Tuesday to approve a bill to block the European Union from requiring U.S. airlines to trade carbon emissions emitted from flights to European countries.
The bill, which has been dubbed the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act (S. 1956), had been opposed by two prominent Democratic members of the committee, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
But the measure was cleared for a floor vote on Tuesday after Kerry and Boxer agreed to an amendment asking the International Civil Aviation Organization to take steps to reduce emissions.
“I wasn’t going to support the [Sen. Claire] McCaskill [(D-Mo.)]-[Sen. John] Thune [(R-S.D.)] law, but it makes it clear that the place for dealing with this sort of issue is the international organization that is already set up,” Boxer said Tuesday. “We’re saying no to unilateral moves by Europe, but yes to taking a lead role in doing something collaboratively.”
The bill has already been approved by the full House.
The organization it directs to resolve the issue with airline emissions, the ICAO, was set up in 1947 to regulate international aviation activity.
Thune said Tuesday that the organization was a better place for handling disputes between countries about emissions from airplanes than the European Union. “I think the ICAO is the appropriate place to deal with this,” Thune said, though he added “granted they may be slow.”
Kerry said he was grateful for the sponsors of the anti-EU emissions trading requirement legislation accepting the language about the ICAO, but he still appeared unhappy with the debate that has surrounded the issue in Congress.
“There’s a level of skepticism when the two words ‘climate change’ are mentioned, and it’s really kind of dangerous,” Kerry said. “It comes about because a lot of money has been spent to sort of brand the concept.”
Under the proposed emission trading system, airlines from any country would have to trade credits for pollution emitted by flights to European destinations.
The proposal is similar to cap-and-trade proposals environmentalists once tried to push in the United States. It calls for airlines to reduce their emissions from 2006 levels by 3 percent by 2013 and 5 percent by 2020.
The U.S. airline industry has said the emission trading requirement is unfair to non-European airlines because it counts the entire length of the flight, not just the time an airplane spends over European countries.
But Kerry said Tuesday that the United States was headed for a “trade war” if it did not act to reduce the emissions from its airlines.
“Other places are going to say ‘we don’t want your planes to land here if you’re not doing anything,’ ” he said. “And we’re going to say we don’t want your planes to land here.
“We can sit here literally at our economic and security peril, succumbing to the idea that saying the word ‘climate change’ is a bad idea to American politics,” Kerry said at another point during Tuesday’s hearing. “The effect of that is to have stalemated the United States to our loss in the market place and to our loss in the forefront of energy policy and other things that matter to us.”
Kerry and Boxer wrote a letter to the State Department on Tuesday to make clear that their support for the anti-EU emission trading requirement bill was not support for maintaining the status quo in the U.S. aviation industry’s pollution levels.
“We hope that with U.S. leadership and political will among a broad group of stakeholders, we will see tangible progress in the coming months,” they wrote to State Department Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern. “We urge you to advocate for the establishment of a concrete process to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector, and we look forward to working with you in pursuit of an effective and comprehensive global solution to address this issue.”
The airline industry advocacy group Airlines for America said after the vote on Tuesday that the committee’s approval “sends a strong message to the administration and the EU that Congress objects to this unilateral taxation scheme that will not benefit the environment.
“Diplomacy is not working, and we encourage the administration to file a legal challenge, forcing the EU to work toward a global sectoral approach through the International Civil Aviation Organization,” A4A President Nicholas Calio said in a statement.