Senate to Europe: Get your laws off our carbon

August 1, 2012

In a memorable TV ad saluting the hard work of Olympic athletes, swimmer Ryan Lochte reveals how he made it to the Games in London:  “I swam here.”

That would be one way to avoid the modest cost of carbon pollution permits required for aviation under the EU’s Emission Trading System.

Senator John Thune has a less strenuous approach:  ban U.S. airlines from participating in the system. His European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act (S. 1956), passed by the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday, would authorize the Secretary of Transportation to do just that.

Now, it’s one thing to stand on the sidelines of the global campaign for climate solutions with your arms folded, as our federal government has mostly done for the last 15 years.  It’s another thing to throw tomatoes at the players.  That’s pretty much what S. 1956 is about.

The EU wisely decided to include aviation – one of the fastest growing carbon emission sources – in its ETS.  The system limits dangerous carbon pollution and requires large emitters to have permits for the amount they produce.  The number of permits declines over time – as carbon emissions must.  Air travel is conspicuous carbon consumption; exempting it would be a bit like allowing Ferraris to ignore speed limits.

The cost of these permits would amount to about $6 for a round-trip flight from Washington D.C. to Copenhagen.  The ticket for that same flight on United this last April would have included a “fuel surcharge” of $496, according to testimony submitted by Annie Petsonk of the Environmental Defense Fund in answer to questions posed by Senator Maria Cantwell.    (Annie’s testimony is here.)

Since the emission limits incentivize cost-effective efficiency improvements in aviation, they reduce the risk of these large fuel surcharges.  But increasing Americans’ exposure to the growing costs of oil dependence is apparently not too high a price to pay for the Senate to flip the bird at Europe’s climate policy.  This is particularly ironic/obnoxious, since the premier U.S. commercial airplane manufacturer, Boeing, is committed to leading the industry in efficient aviation technology and lower carbon fuels.

Senators Kerry and Boxer salvaged a little something out of this exercise in international nose-thumbing, adding an amendment that would require U.S. negotiators to achieve a global approach to reducing airline emissions through the International Civil Aviation Organization.

As Senator Kerry put it, S. 1956 amounts to “authorizing through legislation the ability for U.S. companies to break the law of another country.”   Not content to make America an international scofflaw and climate heckler, the bill would direct the Secretary of Transportation to hold U.S. airlines harmless for any penalties associated with their non-compliance.  The airlines, of course, wouldn’t have it any other way.  That could put U.S. taxpayers on the hook for about $22 billion by 2020, according to EDF.   (You’d think that for that kind of money, someone would have offered an amendment requiring the airlines to offer some decent food and a little legroom.)

So rather than pay $6 for emission permits on a round-trip flight to Europe – under a program that would promote efficiency and reduce fuel costs – U.S. taxpayers would just pay airline companies’ fines for failure to comply.

Hey, at least that would spread the costs more equally, right?  This way, even if you swim to London, or just stay home and watch the Olympics on TV, you’ll still have to pay.

“How science works”: Appeals court upholds EPA authority to limit climate pollution

June 28, 2012

Big win!  A federal court of appeals in Washington D.C. upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate climate pollution yesterday.   Good to see some arc in the moral universe.

There’s good coverage at Climate Progress and Grist.  (Update:  NRDC’s David Doniger, one of the heroes of the victory, has the word at NRDC’s Switchboard.)

My favorite quote so far is from the decision itself:

“State and Industry Petitioners assert that EPA improperly ‘delegated’ its judgment to the IPCC, USGCRP, and NRC by relying on these assessments of climate-change science. See U.S. Telecom Ass’n v. FCC, 359 F.3d 554, 566 (D.C. Cir. 2004). This argument is little more than a semantic trick. EPA did not delegate, explicitly or otherwise, any decision-making to any of those entities. EPA simply did here what it and other decisionmakers often must do to make a science-based judgment: it sought out and reviewed existing scientific evidence to determine whether a particular finding was warranted. It makes no difference that much of the scientific evidence in large part consisted of ‘syntheses’ of individual studies and research. Even individual studies and research papers often synthesize past work in an area and then build upon it. This is how science works.  EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question”  (emphasis mine, but it kinda sounds like the judges were leaning into it, eh?)



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