Non-European airline carriers are up in arms over new EU regulations that would require all planes in the European airspace to either reduce their emissions or pay a carbon-offset fee after 2012. Backed by industry, the airlines are wielding the Revolutionary War cry — “No taxation without representation” — as their righteous slogan.
Only this time, it’s a very different Tea Party.
The new regulations, which form the “Aviation Amendment” to the EU Emission Trading Scheme, are not designed to oppress carriers from outside of the EU. They are a red flag warning to the U.S. and the rest of the world that Europe is moving to combat climate change, and we had better keep up.
Consuming around 70 billion gallons of fuel annually, air travel is a huge part of individual and national carbon footprints. It is an obvious target for sustainable development. Europe has an infrastructure in place to drive this development – the ETS, a cap-and-trade system designed to provide incentives for nations to lower their emissions by transitioning to clean energy technologies.
The U.S. was on track to adopt a similar economic system, based on the enormous success of the Montreal protocol, which used cap-and-trade to phase out production of ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons. However, the 2010 cap-and-trade bill, proposed by Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John Kerry (D-MA), failed after right-wing opposition slandered it misleadingly as “cap-and-tax.”
Although the U.S. is still struggling to produce a national sustainable infrastructure, airline carbon emissions could still be regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. Says Earthjustice attorney Sarah Burt:
The EPA has a mandatory obligation to conduct an endangerment finding for aviation emissions… We will continue to work to compel the EPA to act as soon as possible on marine and non-road sources of pollution as well as aircraft emissions.
The airline industry talks a big game, citing aviation biofuels as a viable alternative to oil, and setting goals to reduce emissions by 50% before 2050. The EU is pushing them to follow through. Although the EU might be overstepping its jurisdiction by regulating international carriers, the U.S. should take it as a cue to invest in a green economy. After all, says Annie Petsonk of the Environmental Defense Fund, like cap-and-trade “The EU system is not a tax – if you don’t want to pay you can reduce your emissions.”
Europe is moving forward for the environment, and if we want to maintain our position as a leading nation, we will have to do the same. Perhaps we should stop complaining and see the EU policy as an opportunity. President Obama understands the odds, telling a crowd at a Nevada Air Force base, “The nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the twenty-first century global economy.”
If America wants to be that nation, some big changes are in order.