Obama shields U.S. airlines from EU carbon-trading schem

President Obama signed a law Tuesday to prevent U.S. airlines from contributing to a European carbon-trading scheme, but negotiations for a global compromise will continue at a branch of the United Nations.

U.S. airlines had fought the program as an illegal tax that violates international law, estimating it would add $3.1 billion airfares over the next decade. European Union officials estimated it could add about $30 to each roundtrip ticket across the Atlantic.

China, India and Russia also oppose the program.

“American sovereignty will no longer be threatened by the EU’s illegitimate and disingenuous environmental tax on our country,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who sponsored the legislation.

Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action, announced Nov. 12 a postponement in enforcement of the program that began this year and threatened to start charging airlines in early 2013.

Europe will now wait until September, when a branch of the United Nations that governs aviation meets next, for a possible global solution to the dispute. But Hedegaard warned that the EU program would resume “automatically” if no solution is found.

She tweeted Tuesday that the re-elected Obama’s climate policies look “exactly” like those from his first term. “Wonder when we will see the announced change???” she wrote.

The White House issued a statement saying the administration “is firmly committed to reducing harmful carbon pollution from civil aviation.” But the White House added that the application of a European program on non-European airlines “is the wrong way to achieve that objective.”

The administration says it remains focused on a global program to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from aviation. Since 2000, U.S. airline emissions have decreased 10% even as the airlines have carried 19% more passengers and cargo, according to the White House.

“We look forward to building on our efforts, both domestically and internationally, in the months to come,” the statement said.

The UN body that will debate a compromise is called the International Civil Aviation Organization. The organization’s 36-country council agreed Nov. 9 to have a “high-level” group of countries negotiate options, with updates to the council in March and June.

Nicholas Calio, president of the industry group Airlines for America, said the law sends an unequivocal signal that the European program is wrong. He says working through the International Civil Aviation Organization will lead toward a policy that allows industry growth while improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions.
US Today, November 27, 2012