House passes bill defying Europe's aircraft emissions rules

The House defied the European Union Monday evening, quickly approving legislation that would ban European countries from imposing emission trading requirements on U.S. airlines.

The EU's Emissions Trading System (ETS) has said that, starting next year, it will charge U.S. aircraft for carbon emissions whenever they land or take off in Europe.

The lower chamber approved H.R. 2594 by unanimous consent after a brief debate in which most Republicans and Democrats said they reject the ETS as an extra-territorial plan to fine American aircraft that was imposed without any input from the U.S.

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"Not only does this violate international treaties, the Chicago convention, we've never had anything like this posed or proposed before," House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said on the House floor.

Mica called the ETS a "tax grab," and said the plan does not require Europe to use any of the money collected to help reduce emissions.

The chairman and several other members also complained that the ETS would impose a full flight carbon assessments on U.S. planes landing in Europe even though most of the emissions occur in Europe.

"The tax and the meter starts running the minute the plane departs from any point in the United States until it reaches Europe, and the same thing when it departs Europe back to the United States," Mica said.

Most Republicans and Democrats on the transportation panel supported the legislation and often referred to the EU's proposal as a "scheme."

Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), who chairs the subcommittee on Aviation, said the committee heard testimony earlier this year that said the ETS would cost not just money, but jobs.

"According to the Air Transportation Association's testimony before the Aviation Subcommittee this July, the extraction of capital from the aviation system as envisioned under the EU emissions trading scheme could threaten as many as 78,500 U.S. jobs," he said. "This is unacceptable."

Petri also said that while the Obama administration, Republicans and many Democrats are united against the ETS, Europe has refused to agree to negotiate a way to charge for carbon emissions from aircraft in the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization.

"Because the EU has shown no interest in working with the international community to address their concerns and objections, and to seek a global approach to civil aviation emissions, we're moving this bipartisan legislation forward to ensure U.S. operators will not participate in their unilateral and questionable scheme," Petri said.

A few Democrats spoke in support of the bill, including Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), who called the ETS a "scam." And Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said if the ETS results in a $2 per ticket extra charge, that's enough to sink the U.S. airline industry.

Noted environmentalists Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) spoke unsuccessfully against the bill. Both warned that the bill could lead other countries to reject U.S. requirements on incoming aircraft.

"If we legislate our companies out of Europe's environmental laws, our homeland security could be adversely impacted if European countries decided to withhold their cooperation in response with regard to screening of baggage for bombs on planes flying into the United States," Markey said. "The Europeans are taking climate change seriously. We shouldn't undermine their efforts by legislating that our airlines break the law."

With House passage, the bill moves to the Senate, which could not take it up until next week at the earliest, when it returns from a week-long break.