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Climate Wars: European Airlines May Be Banned From North America

The European Union is starting to look like the bully in the sky.

Airlines from around the world that fly into and out of the EU are fighting to overturn a new rule that would cost them billions of dollars for their carbon-dioxide emissions, not just over European skies, but during the whole trip. The United States, along with a number of other countries, has denounced the move and is begging the EU to reconsider.

“There’s no question this will add a significant new cost to an already-burdened airline industry,” said Steve Lott, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which is representing American Airlines and the merged United Airlines and Continental Airlines in a pending lawsuit against the EU. “What we don’t want to do is stunt the growth, or cap the growth, of the aviation industry, because the aviation industry drives global economies.”

But the EU has shown no signs of backing down. A Washington-based official with the European Union’s governing body says this is an important step, a “building block,” toward cleaning the environment.

“For more than 15 years, the EU has been seeking global agreement on tackling aviation’s increasing contribution to greenhouse gas emissions,” the European Commission official said on condition of anonymity. “We believe that the necessary steps for reducing the growth of aviation emissions must be addressed, including through market-based measures.

Commission officials also have said it wouldn’t be fair to impose the fee only on European airlines.

The Emissions Trading System, or ETS, which launched in 2005, remains on target to expand to airlines starting in January 2012. It would require the industry to cut its carbon dioxide emissions average from the 2004-2006 period by 3 percent in 2012 and 5 percent in 2013. Carriers, which would receive 85 percent of their emissions certificates for free, would have to bid for the rest at auction.

This is one issue — a rare one these days — that does not appear to be dividing American lawmakers. The U.S. has joined China, Australia, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates in protesting the move, saying it violates international law, which calls for a regulator like the International Civil Aviation Organization to make these decisions.

Washington has begged the EU to reconsider, but to no avail.

Now, the House transportation and infrastructure committee is looking at a bill — European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 — that would make it illegal for U.S. airlines to participate in the program. The panel hopes this will convince the EU to change its mind.

But if they are not successful in doing so, there is a possibility that the bill could eventually force American airlines out of the EU and result in retaliatory expulsions by the U.S. against European airlines.

The bill, which is receiving bipartisan support in the House, could get a markup as soon as Congress comes back in session in September.

“Now you’ve got the United States really up in arms,” said Justin Harclerode, spokesman for the committee.

Furthermore, ATA and several U.S. airlines are fighting the rule in the European Court of Justice. They argued against the rule on July 5, and a decision is expected by the end of the year.

The biggest concern for airlines is that they would be paying for a majority of emissions miles that fall outside EU airspace. For example, according to ATA, in a trip from San Francisco to London, only 9 percent of the flight would be spent in Europe. The rest would take place in the U.S. (29 percent), Canada (37 percent), and over the high seas (25 percent). But the airlines would be charged for the entire trip.

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