John Mica, Chairman of the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee, held a roundtable discussion in Washington, DC, to debate the United States’ response to Europe’s new emission trading tax — what he termed a “money grab.”
The airline world has been in a turmoil for months as airlines, corporate jet owners and governments have struggled with the unilateral imposition of an environmental tax by the European Union (EU). Simply instituting the tax for flights over Europe might have been accepted, however, the EU is basing its tax on the entire length of flights, including travel across other continents and over oceans before the planes even enter European airspace.
The international community across the planet is not taking to this tax lightly and many of the world’s largest countries are refusing to pay tribute to Europe in any way, shape or form. China, India and Russia seem to be leading the bellicose objectors to this new environmental edict from Brussels. China has gone so far as to cancel future orders of European-built Airbus jetliners and Russia is threatening to start charging European airlines overflight duties once again.
Meanwhile, until now, the U.S. government has been searching for a diplomatic solution without success and as the date of the imposition of this new tax on international travel looms, voices are being raised supporting more than diplomatic small talk urging strong legal, retaliatory and political action.
According to participants in the roundtable discussions, the effort is not one against actions to improve the environment, but against unilateral action by the EU when an international treaty and an approach to reducing carbon emissions by commercial airplanes is already under consideration.
Airlines for America (A4A), the trade association that represents airlines in Washington, DC, filed a lawsuit contesting the right of the EU to impose such a tax. Their suit claimed that since all 27 members of the European Union are members of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) which already has been planning on ways to deal with environmental effects of air transportation, the EU can not introduce new legislation without violating the current international airline treaty.
The EU judges ruled that since the EU itself is not a signatory to the treaty, it was not bound by its provisions, though the EU’s 27 members may be. Legal legerdemain seems to rule the EU’s thinking these days while an international storm is brewing.
Julie Oettinger from the FAA and Kris Urs from the State Department, speaking at the roundtable, outlined the series of extensive diplomatic and legal actions that the Obama administration has already taken. They noted that all was to no avail at this time.
At the Transportation Committee roundtable chaired by Rep. Mica, there was strong bipartisan support for writing a bipartisan letter from Congress to the EU Parliament expressing the US’s displeasure. There was agreement about such an effort from both Democrats and Republicans represented at this roundtable.
The sense of the roundtable participants was one of, “It’s time to take positive action, rather than negotiate.” Most of the Representatives who sat in on the discussions indicated a sense of frustration with the unsuccessful actions of the administration.
What those actions might be and when they might be communicated to the EU is uncertain. The US government’s next steps are not yet cast in stone and options have not even been seriously debated.
So far, the US has been loath to take retaliatory action as the Chinese government has or suggest possible ramifications as Russia has announced. However, veterans of these negotiations have suggested at other international airline conferences that the US might be best served by maintaining solidarity with the hundreds of other international governments that are protesting Europe’s strong arm tactics to extract taxes from international air commerce.
At the Phoenix Airline Symposium last week, one speaker noted that the US’s best chance at swaying the resolve of the EU environmentalists and their carbon-offset allies would be to stand together with the rest of the world in refusing to comply with the EU’s mandate.
If the world declares that these emission trading actions violate international treaties and refuse to participate, Europe can decide to close its airspace based on their environmental efforts, or the EU government can retract its emission trading scheme (carbon offset tax) and return to the drawing board and work with the international community to reach a solution.
It is hard to believe that the EU would choose closing their airspace. Such a draconian decision would devastate the European economy on countless levels. With recent memories of the effects of Europe’s closed airspace during the Iceland volcano eruption, it may be hard to find even a handful of members of the European Parliament that would support such an action.
Diplomatic entreaties, combative correspondence and retaliatory threats aside, having the nations of the world stand together and say, “No,” to this unilateral demand for tribute (ironically not even earmarked for environmental efforts) will probably be the best course of action and, ultimately, will return the air transport community back to its cordial world of treaty discussions.