As the rate of international air travel continues to soar, so do emissions from airlines. For 15 years, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has dragged its feet on developing a global approach to trim airline emissions. Tired of waiting around for ICAO to strike a meaningful deal—which many believe is unlikely—Europe has moved to rein in aviation emissions by including them in the EU Emissions Trading System. As of this year, all airlines, not just European carriers, must hold emissions permits for flights landing in or leaving from the EU.
Airlines, which will initially receive free emissions permits from the EU to help them comply, will likely enjoy a bump in profits in the near term. Studies supported by the Federal Aviation Administration estimate that the EU law will not cut into airline profits and will only cost transatlantic travelers roughly $3 more in ticket fees per flight. Nonetheless, the new EU rule has few fans on Capitol Hill. A measure under consideration in the U.S. Senate would make it illegal for U.S. airlines to comply with the new EU rule and put U.S. tax payers on the hook to pay fines that U.S. airlines accumulate while in violation of the EU law. The bill for tax payers could total close to $22 billion over the next eight years. A similar measure has already passed the House.
Passing laws that forbid U.S. companies to comply with the laws of other countries sets a dangerous precedence. It not only invites retaliation, it could also damage relationships with key U.S. allies and undermine our own national security. Imagine if other nations similarly snubbed U.S. laws, for example compliance with U.S. airport security regulations or safety standards. U.S. lawmakers and the American public would be outraged.
Every nation has a sovereign right to establish laws to protect the health, safety and environment of its citizens. Europe has exercised this right by including air travel in its emissions trading system, a move that will improve the fuel efficiency of air travel. Just as the United States expects other nations to comply with U.S. laws when they do business in the U.S., Europe and others should expect no less from the United States.
Cathleen Kelly is the Director of the Climate & Energy Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
Image by Airliners.net.