Europe's Unfriendly Skies

Flying to and from Europe just became more expensive thanks to the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).  The ETS was instituted in January 2005, in an attempt to control greenhouse gas emissions, specifically carbon dioxide.  Initially the scheme applied to power-generating facilities, oil refineries, steelworks, and other heavy industry in Europe.  Now, as of the first of the year, the regulations have reached the airline industry, including aircraft based in the United States. 

Flights to and from Europe account for a third of all global air travel, thus this plan is the widest-reaching measure ever imposed by any country, or regional bloc, to regulate CO2 emissions and further the United Nation's green agenda.  The new scheme will hold all airlines flying to, from, or within the EU liable for their greenhouse gas "pollution."  The airlines began the year with an annual allotment of tradable carbon allowances to cover the CO2 they are allowed to emit without penalty.  Carriers that exceed their limit will be able to buy allowances from other airlines that have emitted less than their quota.  The kingpins at the EU contend that cap and trade is the fairest way to deal with aviation's contribution to supposed global warming.  The airline industry represents about three percent of worldwide CO2 emissions.  The plan is designed to rake in the equivalent of over a billion dollars this year alone (900 million Euros).

Cap and trade is a product of the green machinations dreamed up by the United Nations and originally presented to the public at the Rio Earth Summit in 1990.  The stated goal of cap and trade is to force "changes in consumption patterns."  Ideally, money raised by the scheme is to be used to support government social welfare programs.  As Margaret Thatcher once said, "[s]ocialist governments ... always run out of other people's money."  Hitting up the airline industry with a carbon fee is just another way for the financially broken EU to tap into a new source of other people's money.

According to the International Air Transport Association, which represents about 240 airlines comprising 84 percent of global air traffic, the ETS will cost airlines up to $1.17 billion this year; that's about a quarter of the all the airlines' profits in 2011.  Estimates are that by 2020 the fees will amount to $3.2 billion.  This year, Germany's Lufthansa Airlines estimates its annual cost for CO2 permits at about $490 million.

In December, U.S. air carriers failed to block the ETS from being taxed when flying in and out of European airports.  The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg dismissed arguments that stated that imposing the cap and trade program on foreign carriers infringes on national sovereignty or violates international aviation treaties.

The lawsuit was brought by Airlines for America, which represented U.S. and Canadian carriers.  China, India, Russia, and other several other countries supported the protest.  Beijing has made it perfectly clear that it will not participate in the green scheme.  In an interview with Reuters, Cai Haibo, deputy secretary-general of the China Air Transport Association, said, "China will not cooperate with the European Union on the ETS, so Chinese airlines will not impose surcharges on customers relating to the emissions tax."  Beijing estimates that if it did participate, the program would cost its state-owned airline $172 million this year. Since 2007, China's plan to address climate change rejects any mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions.  In addition, it's possible the Chinese are ready to play hardball with the EU because China's airlines carry significant numbers of Chinese and other Asian tourists to Europe. Any disruption could hurt Europe's travel industry -- not a good thing given Europe's debt crisis and high unemployment.

Meantime, in the U.S., Delta Air Lines has already added a $6 charge per round trip on tickets sold in the United States for travel to Europe.  Other carriers are expected to follow suit.

So where is our federal government on this?  A bipartisan bill was passed by the House of Representatives in October, directing the Department of Transportation to prohibit U.S. carriers from participating in the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme.  That's a good start, but here's the problem: the legislation, called the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 (H.R. 2594), stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

As we enter a robust election season, Senator Harry Reid, fellow Democrats, and green Team Obama need to be reminded that the majority of Americans could give a rip about the U.N.'s green agenda, and they do not want to be forced to participate in monitoring the EU's carbon footprint.  We need representation in D.C., as opposed to the usual eco-subterfuge.

Brian Sussman is the morning radio host at KSFO in San Francisco and the author of the upcoming book Eco-Tyranny: How the Left's Green Agenda will Dismantle America