EU anti-pollution law is modest, reasonable start to curb aviation emissions: EDF expert to Senate

June 6, 2012
Jennifer Andreassen, 202-572-3387,


(WASHINGTON – June 6, 2012)  A European law that limits global warming pollution from airplanes can help boost U.S. jobs developing cleaner aviation, strengthen energy security, and spur progress in international aviation talks, Annie Petsonk, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) International Counsel testified today in the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee.*

“Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of global warming pollution,” Petsonk said in oral testimony. The EU aviation law would, by 2020, cut carbon pollution by an amount equivalent to taking 30 million cars off the road each year.

The law gives airlines a wide range of choices on how to cut emissions, and lets them save costs by participating in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). Until the EU law, airlines had managed to escape global warming pollution limits in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and in every nation in which they operate.

“ICAO has wrangled with this emissions issue for fifteen years,” Petsonk noted. “It’s only because of the EU ETS that ICAO has made more progress this year than ever before.”

Last year, United/Continental and American Airlines and their trade association lost their court battle against the EU law, with adverse rulings at both the preliminary and final stages of the litigation. Noting that in their quest to avoid regulation, the airlines’ next move was to ask the U.S. Congress to ban their participation in the EU system, Petsonk questioned the wisdom of that strategy. 

The airlines’ proposed law “could have unintended consequences,” she warned. The bill could put the airlines’ shareholders on the hook for the airlines’ non-compliance, or require U.S. taxpayers to bail the airlines out. 

With regard to claims that the EU law intrudes into U.S. airspace, Petsonk pointed out that many nations – including the United States – impose taxes and other regulations that apply to all international arrivals and departures throughout the continuum of the flights. As for the airlines’ argument that the costs of the EU law are prohibitive, Petsonk highlighted analyses by MIT and others finding any costs to be small – per trip, about half the price of a beer on a United flight – and that airlines might even profit from the law.

“To those who say that a better solution would be in the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO: we agree,” Petsonk testified. But, “until ICAO reaches an agreement, the EU’s program is reasonable, it’s affordable, and it makes sense.”

*View Petsonk’s summary and full written testimony

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