Senate passes bill to shield US airlines from EU carbon-emissions law

Unanimously passed Thune bill aims to enable US airlines to avoid paying for their carbon emissions on European flights

The US Senate unanimously passed a bill on Saturday that would shield US airlines from paying for their carbon emissions on European flights, pressuring the European Union to back down from applying its emissions law to foreign carriers.

Since January, the European Commission has been enforcing its law to make all airlines take part in its Emissions Trading Scheme, which aims to combat global warming.

The Senate approved the bill shortly after midnight, as it scrambled to complete business to recess ahead of the 6 November congressional and presidential elections.

Republican senator John Thune, a sponsor of the measure, said it sent a “strong message” to the EU that it cannot impose taxes on the United States.

“The Senate’s action today will help ensure that US air carriers and passengers will not be paying down European debt through this illegal tax and can instead be investing in creating jobs and stimulating our own economy,” Thune said in a statement.

The House of Representatives has passed a similar measure, and could either work out differences with the Senate’s version or accept the Senate bill when Congress returns for a post-election session.

Nearly all airlines have complied reluctantly with the EU law, but Chinese and Indian carriers missed an interim deadline to submit information required under it. Earlier this year, China threatened retaliation – including impounding European aircraft – if the EU punished Chinese airlines for not complying with its emissions trading scheme.

The dispute between China and the EU froze Airbus purchase deals worth up to $14bn, though China signed an agreement with Germany for 50 Airbus planes worth over $4bn during Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Beijing last month.

The Senate bill gives the US transportation secretary authority to stop US airlines from complying with the EU law. But new amendments agreed to during negotiations among lawmakers said the secretary could only do so if the EU trading scheme is amended, an international alternative is agreed to or the United States implements its own program to address aviation emissions.

This increases pressure on the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to devise a global alternative to the EU law.

Connie Hedegaard, the European climate commissioner, said on Saturday that while the bill encourages the United States to work within the UN organization for a global deal on aviation emissions, she is skeptical that Washington will accept such a deal.

“It’s not enough to say you want it, you have to work hard to get it done,” she said. “That means that the US needs to change its approach in ICAO and show willingness to actually seal a meaningful global deal that will facilitate action.”

Annie Petsonk, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the bill would put pressure on the UN body, which has been working on a global framework for years.

“Passage of the Thune bill amps up the pressure on ICAO to move swiftly to reach a global agreement on addressing aviation’s global warming pollution,” she said.

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