A coalition of environmental groups is calling on President Obama to stop Congress from protesting a requirement that U.S. airlines trade carbon emissions on flights to and from European countries.

Congress is considering legislation to block the European emissions trading requirement from being applied to U.S. airlines.

But a group of 11 environmental groups said Friday that Obama should prevent that from happening.

“On behalf of our millions of members and supporters, we strongly urge you to reject the airline industry’s pressure to file an Article 84 action in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) challenging the European Union’s Aviation Directive, which holds airlines accountable for carbon pollution from flights landing at or taking off from European airports,” the groups wrote in a letter to Obama.

“Filing a formal proceeding to block the directive would be highly
inconsistent with your Administration’s efforts to reduce carbon
pollution from other sources, and would undermine your administration’s
stated goal of achieving an agreed framework in ICAO to limit global
warming pollution from international aviation,” they continued.

The legislation in question, S. 1956, calls on the ICAO to undo the EU’s emission trading system and create a plan to reduce pollution from airplanes of its own. The ICAO was set up by a treaty in 1947 to regulate international aviation activity.

The bill was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee this week. A companion measure has already been passed by the full House.

Under the emissions trading system the environmental groups were defending, airlines from any country are required to trade credits for pollution emitted by flights to European destinations. The requirement took effect on Jan. 1, despite the protests from both Congress and the U.S. airline industry.

Airlines say they will now have to
begin making payments to countries within the European Union for
over-emissions on international flights in April 2013.

The European emissions requirements are similar to cap-and-trade proposals environmentalists once tried to push in the United States that would call for airlines to reduce their emissions from 2006 levels by 3 percent by 2013 and 5 percent by 2020.

U.S. airlines have said the requirement is not fair to non-European airlines because it counts the entire length of the flight, not just the time an airplane spends over European countries.

The coalition of environmental groups argued Friday, however, that the opposition was “a transparent effort to allow airlines to evade responsibility for their carbon pollution in perpetuity.

“Calls for such a proceeding must be viewed for what they truly are: not an effort to improve ICAO’s odds of achieving a global solution, but rather a means of reducing the likelihood that ICAO takes meaningful action on carbon pollution from international aviation – while simultaneously obviating the world’s only program that is now actually doing so,” the groups wrote to Obama.

“Rather than initiating an Article 84 proceeding that would undercut ICAO’s prospects for making progress, your administration should lead the effort in ICAO to craft a meaningful global approach on aviation carbon pollution, working together with airlines and civil society,” the environmental groups said. 

The letter calling for Obama to step into the fight was signed by the presidents of
350.org; the Center for Biological Diversity; Climate Protection Campaign
Climate Solutions; Earthjustice; the Environmental Defense Fund; Environment
America Environment Northeast; Greenpeace USA; the Interfaith Power
Light League of Conservation Voters; the Natural Resources Defense Council;
Oxfam America Sierra Club; the US Climate Action Network; and the World
Wildlife Fund U.S.

back to top