House stimulus includes controversial effort to stem airline pollution

House stimulus includes controversial effort to stem airline pollution
© Greg Nash

The stimulus package to battle the economic effects of the coronavirus proposed by House Democrats includes provisions to crack down on pollution from the airline industry.

The bill also includes more than $50 billion in relief for the industry, but it would require airlines to go carbon neutral for domestic flights by 2025. It also promotes cleaner jet fuels and would greenlight the government to buy older, less efficient planes from airlines.

Environmentalists have pushed the party not just to crack down on airlines but to offer tax incentives to the renewable energy sector. But Democrats’ efforts to include environmental language have in part stalled similar legislation in the Senate, where a vote on a stimulus package has once again been delayed.  

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“Airlines that want public support should live public values,” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseLWCF modernization: Restoring the promise Restaurant owner defends calamari as 'bipartisan' after Democratic convention appearance Warren calls on McConnell to bring Senate back to address Postal Service MORE (D-R.I.) tweeted when pushing the concept in the Senate last week.

The House package tasks the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with overseeing most of the required emissions reductions.

Beyond the carbon neutrality provisions, airlines who take assistance would also be required to set binding targets to reduce their own emissions to 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. 

Airlines would have to start posting about the emissions levels for flights alongside their ticket prices starting in 2023. 

The government would also purchase $1 billion worth of older, more-polluting planes with the expectation airlines would replace them with more fuel-efficient models. The U.S. would be able to recoup some of those costs by selling airplane parts back to various carriers.

The provisions were met with opposition from some Republicans.

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“Democrats are taking advantage of this pandemic to check items off their wishlist while watching the American people suffer, and it’s truly horrifying,” Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsVulnerable GOP incumbents embrace filling Supreme Court seat this year Georgia GOP Senate candidates cite abortion in pushing Ginsburg replacement Win by QAnon believer creates new headaches for House GOP MORE (R-Ga.) tweeted.

But environmental groups have been strongly advocating for them, echoing calls that public funds must be used to clean up an industry whose pollution is rapidly accelerating. 

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.

“If taxpayers are investing money in this industry and they are going to be the industry of the future, they have to accelerate the adoption of fuel efficient airplanes,” Melinda Peirce, legislative director for the Sierra Club, told The Hill.

Rachel Frazin contributed.