Senators aim to block EU airline cap-and-trade scheme

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri are looking to pass a bill this week that would block a European Union carbon trading scheme that taxes U.S. airlines travel to and from Europe.

The ETS, which was launched in 2005 with the intention of combating climate change, has been met with resistance from countries including China, India, Russia, Japan and Brazil. There has been political backlash in the U.S. as well as Thune and McCaskill introduced the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 last December.

A companion bill was also introduced in the House by Republican Congressman John Mica of Florida and a bipartisan group of legislators, which passed that chamber last year.

As of Jan. 1, 2012, all international flights to and from the EUwere included in the emissions trading scheme, including U.S. airlines.

“Congress must act to protect America’s sovereignty and ensure that U.S. operators and passengers are not penalized by this illegitimate tax,” said Republican Sen. John Thune in July.

According to a press release by Thune’s office, the tax will cost U.S. airlines and passengers $3.1 billion dollars between 2012 and 2020.

“Even the Obama administration,” Thune said earlier this year, “testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in July of 2011 that an EU ETS is inconsistent with international aviation law.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood both have sent letters to the E.U., expressing opposition to the imposition of the EU trading scheme to foreign air carriers.

“Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton, Secretary [of Transportation Ray] LaHood, and over 20 foreign governments are united in their opposition to EU ETS,” wrote Thune and McCaskill. “The entire aviation industry, including airlines, operators and manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and several labor unions are also supportive of our bipartisan bill.”

The U.S. aviation industry has also been urging the administration to take all necessary action to ensure “that U.S. passengers, airlines and aircraft operators are not subject to this unlawful scheme.”

On July 31, Thune and McCaskill’s bill, European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011, passed out of committee.

Thune and McCaskill hope to get the bill passed this week or else the bill could languish until after the elections.

Thune called off a unanimous consent vote last week to try and reach a compromise and made some changes to the bill.

Sources close to the matter told Reuters that Thune will likely bring the amended bill to floor for a unanimous consent vote by the end of this week, and they were unsure if dissenting senators would vote for the amended bill.

Passing the bill in the Senate would put pressure on the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), according to Reuters, which is preparing to host a meeting in late-October to come up with a global alternative to the EU scheme.

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