Senate To Europe: Get Your Laws Off Our Carbon

by KC Golden, via GRIP

In a memorable TV ad saluting the hard work of Olympic athletes, swimmer Ryan Lochte reveals how he made it to the Games in London:  “I swam here.”

That would be one way to avoid the modest cost of carbon pollution permits required for aviation under the EU’s Emission Trading System.

Senator John Thune has a less strenuous approach: Ban U.S. airlines from participating in the system. His European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act (S. 1956), passed by the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday, would authorize the Secretary of Transportation to do just that.

Now, it’s one thing to stand on the sidelines of the global campaign for climate solutions with your arms folded, as our federal government has mostly done for the last 15 years.  It’s another thing to throw tomatoes at the players.  That’s pretty much what S. 1956 is about.

The EU wisely decided to include aviation – one of the fastest growing carbon emission sources – in its ETS.  The system limits dangerous carbon pollution and requires large emitters to have permits for the amount they produce.  The number of permits declines over time – as carbon emissions must.  Air travel is conspicuous carbon consumption; exempting it would be a bit like allowing Ferraris to ignore speed limits.

The cost of these permits would amount to about $6 for a round-trip flight from Washington D.C. to Copenhagen.  The ticket for that same flight on United this last April would have included a “fuel surcharge” of $496, according to testimony submitted by Annie Petsonk of the Environmental Defense Fund in answer to questions posed by Senator Maria Cantwell.    (Annie’s testimony is here.)

Since the emission limits incentivize cost-effective efficiency improvements in aviation, they reduce the risk of these large fuel surcharges.  But increasing Americans’ exposure to the growing costs of oil dependence is apparently not too high a price to pay for the Senate to flip the bird at Europe’s climate policy.  This is particularly ironic/obnoxious, since the premier U.S. commercial airplane manufacturer, Boeing, is committed to leading the industry in efficient aviation technology and lower carbon fuels.

Senators Kerry and Boxer salvaged a little something out of this exercise in international nose-thumbing, adding an amendment that would require U.S. negotiators to achieve a global approach to reducing airline emissions through the International Civil Aviation Organization.

As Senator Kerry put it, S. 1956 amounts to “authorizing through legislation the ability for U.S. companies to break the law of another country.” Not content to make America an international scofflaw and climate heckler, the bill would direct the Secretary of Transportation to hold U.S. airlines harmless for any penalties associated with their non-compliance.  The airlines, of course, wouldn’t have it any other way.  That could put U.S. taxpayers on the hook for about $22 billion by 2020, according to EDF.   (You’d think that for that kind of money, someone would have offered an amendment requiring the airlines to offer some decent food and a little legroom.)

So rather than pay $6 for emission permits on a round-trip flight to Europe – under a program that would promote efficiency and reduce fuel costs – U.S. taxpayers would just pay airline companies’ fines for failure to comply.

Hey, at least that would spread the costs more equally, right?  This way, even if you swim to London, or just stay home and watch the Olympics on TV, you’ll still have to pay.

KC Golden writes for Grip on Climate. This piece was originally published at the GRIP blog and was reprinted with permission.

9 Responses to Senate To Europe: Get Your Laws Off Our Carbon

  1. Turboblocke says:

    The EU started this project about 15 years ago and passed the law implementing it in 2008. Exemption is given to countries that have their own scheme. So why hasn’t the most technologically advanced nation in the world come up with anything?

  2. Turboblocke says:

    BTW are you aware that Switzerland is set to implement a similar scheme?

  3. Tom Bennion says:

    “Senators Kerry and Boxer salvaged a little something out of this exercise in international nose-thumbing, adding an amendment that would require U.S. negotiators to achieve a global approach to reducing airline emissions through the International Civil Aviation Organization.”

    Dont let the Dems off here. ICAO has been dragging the chain on action for years. The EU got fed up with waiting, which is precisely why they introduced their scheme unilaterally. So the ‘salvage’ job is just further insult to injury.

    This was a great moment for the Dems to make a play to the large demographic that is getting concerned about climate, and they have messed it up.

  4. Paul Klinkman says:

    Air friction is the major component of fuel use in a plane. Air friction is related to velocity raised to the fourth power. In other words, slowing down a plane by only 10% would lower the plane’s air friction by 34%. Enormous carbon savings are possible tomorrow morning, assuming that the aviation industry is more motivated to save fuel than it is motivated to buy off the government.

  5. anderlan says:

    Just a nitpick: Fossil carbon. Fossil carbon. Fossil carbon. I keep saying it, I’ll say it again. “Fossil carbon” is always better to say than just carbon. It’s just better in every way. Even in short headlines, etc. It should become like one word.

  6. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Shut down the air corridor and we would save a lot more fossil carbon.

  7. If you look at the relevant Directive, you would find that the sanctions include canceling landing rights.

    That would be excellent news for the climate! So I hope this silly bill gets a nice Obama signature and American airlines get kicked out of Europe completely a couple of years from now.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Switch off the albedo effect of the con-trails from air traffic and the drop in global dimming would lead to a rapid temperature rise of, I have heard it surmised, about one degree Celsius.

  9. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Based on studies of the aftermath of 11/9 (9/11 Australianised) the daytime warming would be about the same as the nighttime cooling