Published on November 29th, 2012 | by Nicholas Brown


Obama Shields U.S. Airlines From EU Carbon Fees, Gets Reprimanded By EU’s Connie Hedegaard

November 29th, 2012 by  

President Barack Obama has now signed a bill, which we previous wrote about, that would restrict U.S. airlines from paying a EU carbon fee that would have been charged for flying to the European Union. Notably, the fee has already been temporarily waived for non-EU airlines for 1 year.

The fee is a tax on the carbon emissions* of aircraft flying into European countries, part of the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

The bill Obama signed directs the U.S. transportation secretary to shield U.S. airlines from paying the tax, if deemed necessary.

According to Reuters, lawyers said the bill is unusual because it would prevent U.S. airlines from abiding by EU laws.

The Obama administration has been aggressively pursuing alternative energy technology, and that has yielded significant advancements in energy storage, solar, and wind technology (most notably, the first two). But it is apparently not interested in abiding by the EU’s carbon pricing policies.

“The Obama administration is firmly committed to reducing harmful carbon pollution from civil aviation both domestically and internationally, but, as we have said on many occasions, the application of the EU ETS to non-EU air carriers is the wrong way to achieve that objective,” Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said.

He also pointed out that Obama’s administration is focused on coming up with a global solution to reduce emissions under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Global Solution… When?

The problem with the “global solution” excuse is that the world (specifically, the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization) has had over a decade to come up with a solution to airline emissions, and it hasn’t. This is why the EU finally took matters into its own hands.

The EU’s climate chief, Connie Hedegaard, quickly got out a response to Obama’s decision to sign the bill — not a happy one.

“I think the signing yesterday is very much linked to some domestic situation in the U.S. and the cooperation with the Congress,” Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told a news conference.

In a separate post than that cited above, Reuters adds: “She noted Obama had admitted immediately after his re-election that the U.S. had not done enough on climate and said he would announce news on climate policies after he had undertaken ‘a listening tour.'”

Hedegaard says, “I just hope that when the presidential listening tour is over, it won’t be just the climate policies for a domestic audience, but also for the international audience that we will see.”


*People often refer to carbon dioxide emissions as “carbon emissions,” but carbon is not the same as carbon dioxide. Carbon is an element of its own.

There are many carbon compounds, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, carbon trioxide, carbon suboxide, but the compounds of concern that are emitted by aircraft, power plants, and automobiles are the non-toxic but harmful (because it causes global warming) greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) and the fatally toxic carbon monoxide (at least, it is fatal in high concentrations).

A positive side effect of carbon dioxide restrictions is that they automatically limit carbon monoxide emissions as well, because both carbon monoxide and CO2 are emitted by the same combustion processes, and carbon dioxide emissions are normally reduced by improving fuel efficiency — less combustion equals less of all emissions.

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About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is: Kompulsa.com.

  • Pingback: Study: Carbon Pricing Needed In Order To Cut Airline Emissions | PlanetSave()

  • DS

    This is simply a ‘user fee’ tax. The US can not write a law for US air carriers stating that they don’t have to pay a specific tax in a foreign (and sovereign!) land.

    If the Canadian government wrote a law stating that ‘when a Canadian citizen drives their Canadian registered vehicle through the US, you do not have to pay toll charges at US toll booths and no tax of any fuel purchased.’ Sorry, but if I am in a foreign country, I have to abide by that countries laws. Fact. And few laws are more strict then tax laws!

    This bill is a political dog and pony show. The tax will not apply to foreign air carriers for another year. This will give some political clout for Obama to those who oppose this tax. Eventually the idea that the US (and the rest of the world for that matter) has no choice but to concede to these laws will become more palatable. Those who don’t understand that we live in a global community will be distracted by something else soon enough.

    Likewise, the tax is significantly reduced for some of the more fuel efficient aircraft and engines. Yet another reason to upgrade airframes and engines to more fuel efficient standards, saving cost on gas and reducing carbon emission tax fees. The economics of this work.

    • I know, it’s absurd. Can’t believe he was advised to sign the bill. Even if it’s just a political move.

  • anderlan

    Doesn’t this violate our signing of WTO and a bunch of other treaties? The tax is applied equally to airlines from all nations, inside and outside the EU bloc. It’s not anti-competitive. Free trade rules like this are the only way that a carbon price will ever be global. The EU should start revoking use of their airports to non-complying airlines.

    • Would have to get a lawyer in here to answer, but I’d think so. And completely agree.

  • Anne

    You talk of ‘carbon compounds’ but only list the carbon oxides. The most obvious one missing from your list is CH4, 25x more powerful than CO2.

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