Faced with its first major opportunity to participate in an already-functioning, international CO2-reduction scheme, the U.S. Senate — as well as the House — threw a fit.
As you may be aware, the European Union already has in place an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) which forces companies that generate carbon pollution to pay for it. The system began including airlines earlier this year.
So, when the EU moved to include any airline company whose planes passed through its airports in the trading scheme, naturally, all hell broke loose. Airlines in China and the U.S. were irate, and so were the more, let's say, excitable members of both governments. Why? Because international airlines had been forced to add a bank-breaking $3 surcharge to Europe-bound flights. Naturally, airlines sent their lobbyists to the Hill, whining and griping about the unfairness of it all.
So, the Senate got to legislatin' to let the airlines off the hook. It passed a bill that would do exactly that, in the wee hours of the morn last week. Yes, instead of jobs, the incoming fiscal cliff, or any other number of issues, Congress took on a teensie charge to airlines that was levied to reduce carbon pollution.
In essence, the Senate bill would allow the Transportation Department to prohibit U.S. airlines from complying with the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme. The Senate passed the bill just before 2 a.m. Saturday, as lawmakers were stumbling toward the exits for their pre-election recess.Sigh. Calio is wrong, of course — the fee would spur the development of more efficient planes and would be traded on the ETS.
“Congress has spoken — U.S. airlines should not be subjected to this illegal scheme that amounts to little more than a cash grab for the European Union as none of the funds collected are required to be used for environmental purposes,” said Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America, in a statement.
But this nonetheless demonstrates precisely why we haven't seen Congress pass any successful climate policy in the United States: there's intense lobbying from a powerful, high-emissions industry on one end and extremely little sympathy for climate-related initiatives on the other. Republicans were united in opposition, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, was the co-sponsor of the bill.
You can count on one hand the number of congressmen who actually prioritize climate change — it'd take an auditorium full of extremities to tally those eager to curry favor with campaign-financing industry interests. As such, climate initiatives are routinely and easily bowled over. This entire dispute hinges on an extra $3 or so added to flights to a single region — and Congress annihilated it without thinking twice. From there, it's easy to extrapolate what happens when anyone suggests pricing carbon across the board.
By showing it won't tolerate even the slightest, minimally expensive effort to reduce carbon emissions in a single industry, Congress once again demonstrates how low the climate factors into its priorities.