U.S. lawmakers urge transport chief to shield airlines from EU plan

Friday, 22 Nov 2013 | 4:49 PM ET

WASHINGTON, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Lawmakers urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Friday to use his authority to protect domestic air carriers from paying for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit as their aircraft fly over European airpsace.

Leaders of the House transportation committee sent a letter to Foxx, asking him to enter into negotiations to ensure U.S. airlines are "held harmless" from a proposed EU amendment requiring foreign air carriers to buy carbon permits in the European emissions trading scheme to cover portions of flights over EU airspace.

They said if approved, the EU proposal would contradict what European negotiators backed last month when the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreed to develop a global market mechanism to curb emissions by 2016 that could enter force in 2020.

"We believe that the EU's proposed amendment to the ETS violates the sprit and letter of the ICAO agreement, as it would be unilaterally applied to portions of U.S. flights to and from the EU."

Last November, President Barack Obama signed a bill that would direct the transportation secretary to shield airlines from the EU ETS if he or she determined it was necessary for the public interest.

It required the transportation secretary, head of the Federal Aviation Authority and other U.S. officials to conduct international negotiations to ensure U.S. airlines are protected.

The EU passed a law in 2009 charging all airlines for emissions for the full duration of their flights into and out of the bloc, but it was suspended last year amid complaints from countries including the United States, China and Russia and replaced with a scheme that applied only to routes wholly within the EU.

The European Commission last month proposed reinstating the law, but weakening it to force all carriers using EU airports between 2014 and 2020 to pay for the greenhouse gases they emit in the bloc's airspace via Europe's Emissions Trading Scheme.

At the ICAO General Assembly that concluded in October, the majority of nearly 190 countries agreed that countries or regions could run their own emissions pricing schemes until 2020 but would need the consent of other countries.

"The ETS amendment currently being considered in the EU flouts the agreed upon framework developed by the ICAO," the committee members said.

If the EU proposal is not approved by April, the law will be restored in its original form, meaning airlines will have to spend even more on carbon permits to cover their entire flights.

A German member of the European Parliament, Peter Liese, warned this week that if the weakened proposal is not approved, threats of an aviation trade war will resurface as the more stringent original law resumes.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Richard Chang)