By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON, Sept 22 The Senate unanimously
passed a bill on Saturday that would shield U.S. 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.
The European Commission has been enforcing its law since
January to make all airlines take part in its Emissions Trading
Scheme to combat global warming, prompting threats of a trade
The Senate approved the bill shortly after midnight, as it
scrambled to complete business to recess ahead of the Nov. 6
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 U.S. 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
Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, the measure's other
chief sponsor, said, "It's refreshing to see strong, bipartisan
support for the commonsense notion that Americans shouldn't be
forced to pay a European tax when flying in U.S. airspace."
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
Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said the
administration is reviewing the bill. The State Department did
not immediately respond to a request for comment.
So far, 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.
China earlier this year threatened retaliation - including
impounding European aircraft - if the EU punishes Chinese
airlines for not complying with its emissions trading scheme.
The dispute between China and the EU froze Airbus purchase
deals worth up to $14 billion, though China signed an agreement
with Germany for 50 Airbus planes worth over $4 billion during
Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to Beijing last month.
The Senate bill gives the U.S. transportation secretary
authority to stop U.S. airlines from complying with the EU law.
But a new amendment agreed to during negotiations among
lawmakers said the secretary could reconsider the prohibition 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."
The bill increases pressure on the U.N. 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 U.N. organization for a global deal on aviation
emissions, she is skeptical that Washington will accept such a
"It's not enough to say you want it, you have to work hard
to get it done," she told Reuters on Saturday. "That means that
the U.S. needs to change its approach in ICAO and show
willingness to actually seal a meaningful global deal that will
Annie Petsonk, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund,
said the bill will pile pressure on the U.N. 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.