Republican-Majority House Votes Trade War against Europe

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While we may take a keen interest in politics, such events may not always enter the realm of clean tech. Studies have shown that you are more likely to die of airline pollution than a plane crash. Recently passed house bill HR2594 specifically tells airlines to break the law (of Europe) in order to do nothing about such pollution.

The Takeoff

NRDC’s Switchboard reports that International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – the U.N. coordinating body for international aviation — tried to develop regulations for 15 years to reduce carbon emissions. Frustrated with their failure, the EU unilaterally decided to incorporate aviation emissions into their existing cap-and-trade system and extend it to include reductions from all airlines using European Airports starting January 1, 2012. If an airline exceeds the cap, allowances must be purchased from EU member states or other airlines.

We have similar carbon concerns in the US that lack national redress for global climate issues. Cities and states have enacted their own policies. This sort of unilateral law-making is not without precedent elsewhere. The US also requires road vehicles here to meet certain safety and pollution standards and pass tests not seen in other parts of the world. This is one of the reasons why we don’t have European-style diesel vehicles in the US.

The European law has been reviewed and is considered legal. This is the version of events offered by the Environmental Defense Fund. It is clear that there is focus in the US on wealth and the economy, while in Europe there is more concern with quality of life, but new action by the House of Representatives, and promoted by the airlines, seems to go too far. They specifically focus their attention on a problem that is killing people… and consciously decide to do nothing.

The legislation:

NRDC’s Switchboard tells us this Republican House, by passing HR2594, directs:

“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.”

The Effect

The law would make it “illegal for U.S. airlines to comply with the EU ETS requirements.” We are told the effect of this would be to start a trade war with Europe.

Sometimes, what is left out is as important as what is included. In this case, what is not as mentioned is this provision of the bill:

(2) United States airlines and other United States aircraft operators will be required under the ETS to pay for European Union emissions allowances for aircraft operations within the United States…

… this does not sound particularly fair that US carriers should pay money to the EU if they operate non-compliant flights outside the EU… in America. But international law “requires that you apply a common standard to all flights that use your airports.” The US may not want US carriers to pay into the European trade if that puts the airlines at a disadvantage to theoretical companies who do not fly to Europe. But all airlines that do fly to Europe would be at a disadvantage if the US is exempt.

The bottom line for the Europeans is to reduce carbon. I am sure they would have been happy if the UN body accomplished this in the last 15 years. It is beyond the scope of this article to review the politics of that lack of decision. The unilateral action that has been taken is legal. There is a mandate to apply it evenly. Studies have shown that a majority of people in the US would favor more action on climate change. But what is right or just is not always similar to the existing lines of power and control.

The Solution

Airlines have lobbied for relief. The EU has said that they will stand firm on this issue, as it is part of a much larger scope of environmental regulations. So, at a time of economic distress, this Republican House is interested in starting yet another war. This one economic. There is a very easy solution. The US could enact similar legislation which would then exempt it from the European scheme. Like a child looking for its sugar fix, this Republican House seems unable to let go of its carbon addiction, as it continues to be the Republican House that only “knows” how to say “NO.”

More information on Airport Carbon Accreditation News

Photo Credit: wikimedia commons

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