2 august 2012

[4C note: This is one more sign that Congress does not represent the people who elected it, 70% of whom believe climate change is happening now. But the battle over the EU intent to include aviation in its ETS is far from over, since European courts have already tested and approved the aviation ETS inclusion. and the EU Climate Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, is determined to persevere.]

Congress caves on climate legislation - again

By Heather Coleman (Oxfam America) in The Hill - 08/02/12

Although Congress has failed to enact legislation, the public is waking up to the reality of climate change and taking it much more seriously. But, to add insult to inaction, Congress is now preparing to poke a stick in the eye of countries that have taken some action. A vote passed Tuesday in the Senate Commerce Committee takes climate bashing in a whole new direction. The “Thune bill” (S.1956) actually makes it illegal for the airline industry to even comply with another country’s climate law.

Just imagine what would happen, for example, if European countries voted to make it illegal for their foods, like champagne or chocolates, to comply with US health and safety standards? That’s how bad this is.

At issue is the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) which applies a uniform rule to all flights landing in or departing from EU airports regardless of origin or destination and regardless of the airline’s home country. The law was upheld in EU Court of Justice (similar to the U.S. Supreme Court) last year in a lawsuit that was brought by U.S. airlines. Since then, the House of Representatives voted to prohibit U.S. airlines from complying with the law and now the Senate has voted its companion bill out of committee with almost unanimous approval. The bill could be attached to all sorts of legislation headed to the president’s desk.

The vote comes at a time when we’re experiencing the nation’s worst drought in over a generation, coupled with unprecedented wildfires and weather extremes, Greenland’s ice sheet thawed almost completely for the first time in recorded history, and we’re experiencing some of the warmest global temperatures on record. The current U.S. drought is already leading to food price spikes in corn and soybeans and these price increases are spilling over into global commodities, like wheat, which provides a staple food for poor people in key developing countries.

Even some of the most reliable stalwarts on climate in the Senate voted for the bill, including Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), further demonstrating the way that the aviation industry has been able to strong-arm the process. It is astounding and confounding that they would cast this vote. This may be the worst vote by Senate Democrats on climate issues since the Byrd-Hagel resolution in 1997, which cut the legs out from under U.S. engagement in international climate policy for at least a decade.

How ironic it is that Senators of any stripe on the foreign relations committee voted for a bill that mandates that U.S. companies violate another countries’ law? As my colleagues at EDF point out, Congress hasn’t voted for that to happen since apartheid.

Of course, the EU acting alone isn’t optimal — a global solution, with fair provisions for developing countries’ airlines, including finance from the scheme being channeled to developing countries, would be preferable. On this issue, the EU should keep their promise to direct revenues from the EU ETS for action on climate change in poor countries.

Right now, rather than making it illegal to comply with the EU rules, the right approach is for the US to engage proactively in getting a comparable policy passed the international body that oversees airline safety and emissions controls, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Congress needs to stop interceding in damaging ways and instead support a meaningful solution that caps emissions and works fairly for all countries.

Heather Coleman is a senior climate advisor at Oxfam America.

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