But Annie Petsonk, international counsel at the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, said the E.U.’s airline policy is the kind of “bottoms-up” approach that can begin to address global warming as international negotiators work to craft a new international climate pact. Environmentalists have urged U.S. airlines to switch to biofuels and adopt airplane designs that could cut their fuel use.
“It is high time airlines actually live up to their green claims and comply with the E.U. law, which will cut pollution and spark low-carbon innovation,” Petsonk said.
Although the United States is not a party to the case, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for transportation affairs, Krishna R. Urs, suggested it would also fight the E.U.’s imposition of carbon fees through diplomatic means. The Transportation Department has a voluntary program aimed at cutting the airline industry’s greenhouse gas emissions but no mandatory measures. The United States has a number of tools at its disposal, including filing a complaint with the International Civil Aviation Organization; seeking arbitration directly with Europe through bilateral aviation agreements; and a series of retaliatory measures the transportation secretary can impose, ranging grom fining European carriers to restricting their access to the United States.
“We continue to have strong legal and policy objections to the inclusion of flights by non-E.U. air carriers in the E.U. [Emissions Trading Scheme]. We do not view the court’s decision as resolving these objections,” Urs said.
The airline industry will be able to minimize the cost of the new rules by buying relatively cheap carbon offsets and passing on a portion of the cost to consumers, according to a recent analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The out-of-pocket costs for the aviation industry amounts to just 0.24 percent of the revenue that will be generated with flying in and out of Europe next year and 0.54 percent of the revenue in 2020.
The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill last month that would order the transportation secretary to prohibit U.S. airlines from complying with the E.U. law, but it is unclear how that would shield companies from international penalties. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has introduced a companion bill in the Senate that would give the transportation secretary that option. It has yet to pass.