Energy & Environment

Democratic lawmakers call for emissions reductions in airline bailout

A number of Senate Democrats say any airline bailout package must include measures that limit carbon emissions from the industry.

The airline industry asked the government Monday for over $50 billion in assistance, including both $30 billion in grants and another $25 billion in loans and tax relief, as airline traffic has nosedived amid the coronavirus outbreak. President Trump has said he intends to provide help for the airlines.

But Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) say those funds should come with strings attached.

“Carbon offsets should be a condition for any such bailouts,” Whitehouse tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “Airlines that want public support should live public values.”

Though a small percentage of global emissions, the airline industry is one of the rapidly growing sectors of greenhouse gas emissions.

Emissions from global air travel increased 32 percent between 2013 and 2018, according to data from the International Council on Clean Transportation released late last year.

Another study from the same organization found that growth outpaced fuel efficiency measures taken by airlines threefold.

“There’s a big imbalance between emissions growth and fuel efficiency gains. A bailout should try to address that core challenge,” said Dan Rutherford, an author of both of the studies and the aviation director at the council.

He hopes any bailout would mirror the 2008 and 2009 bailouts for the auto industry, which were followed by a commitment to more aggressive fuel economy regulations.

Rutherford said the package should not just provide relief to the industry, but spur use of biofuels — perhaps having the government pick up some of the cost, which can be two to five times higher than for traditional jet fuel — or work to reduce pollution from smaller flights.

“If you had just a straight bailout or [jet] fuel subsidy I think you’re … not going to get the new investments that you need” in alternative fuels, he said. “But if you go a different route and provide incentives for airlines to retire the less fuel efficient aircraft used on marginal routes, that could move the ball forward.”

Airlines for America, the trade association for the airline industry, did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Lawmakers have yet to offer up many specific conditions on the environmental front but some have included demands for labor and consumer protections.

“Any infusion of money to the airlines must have some major strings attached – including new rules to prohibit consumer abuses like unfair change and cancellation fees; protections for front-line workers like flight attendants, pilots, and airport workers; special consideration for our smaller, regional carriers not represented by the major trade associations; and the development of long-term strategies and targets to reduce the carbon footprint of the airline industry,” Markey said in a release Monday.

“As our next coronavirus stimulus package is developed, I will demand these conditions be met before supporting any airline bailout,” he added.

Tags airline bailout Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Ed Markey Sheldon Whitehouse
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