Monday, December 10, 2007
Eco Watch -- Senate Legislation, UK Proposal
A Senate committee is bringing reduction of greenhouse gases one step closer to reality for U.S. carriers as the Committee on Environment and Public Works passed legislation calling for reduction of GHGs by 70 percent from 2005 levels by 2050, which would effectively wipe out the environmental strides made by the industry over the past 30 years.
However, S.2919, Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2007, introduced by Connecticut’s Senators Joe Lieberman and Virginia’s John Warner, faces challenges as it passes to the full Senate. In addition, the Bush Administration has threatened a veto. It also faces stiff industry opposition. It would become effective in 2012 and would create two federal boards to set and enforce limits.
The Regional Airline Association joined with the Air Transport Association (ATA), the Air Line Pilots Association, Int'l (ALPA), and the Cargo Airline Association (CAA) in opposing the legislation. “The bill, if enacted, would result in unprecedented increases in jet-fuel-related costs,” said RAA President Roger Cohen. “When coupled with record fuel prices that today are near the century mark, airlines likely will be faced with more difficult and painful choices that will result in service reductions, especially to small- and medium-sized communities, and the loss of more aviation-related jobs.”
The legislation calls for a cap-and-trade system allowing those who exceed their carbon allowances to trade for credits from industries that more than meet their GHG emissions targets. It is also opposed by general aviation interests.
“We improved our fuel efficiency – and hence our GHG efficiency – by 103 percent between 1978 and 2006,” said ATA President and CEO James May, who expressed concern at the speed at which the legislation moved through the Senate. “This achievement was a direct result of the airlines’ continual reinvestment in technology and fuel-efficient operations. This 303-page bill, which would establish carbon as a commodity and redistribute billions and billions of dollars across the U.S. economy, was introduced less than two months ago. It has been fast tracked through the committee process, without undergoing basic economic analysis, perhaps on the hope that no one will have time to raise the types of concerns we are raising. Collectively, we urge the full Senate to give this legislation a more deliberative review and to recognize that it is the wrong approach for commercial aviation.”
The groups noted that Congressional failure to pass the reauthorization of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, actually hurts aviation efforts at further reducing emissions. “Modernization of our outdated air traffic control (ATC) system would enable airlines to fly more direct routes, thus reducing congestion and system-caused delays,” noted CAA President Steve Alterman. “Studies show that this could further reduce our GHG emissions by 10 to 15 percent. Congress has thus far failed to reauthorize FAA operations, which regrettably keeps delaying a decision on NextGen and its related environmental programs. This much-needed program would bring tangible GHG savings while getting at the heart of the congestion and delay problem.”
ATA added: "While the airlines and pilots continue to take their environmental responsibilities very seriously, we have real concerns about the costs and effects of this proposed legislation," said May. "By including jet fuel in a cap-and-trade greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions trading scheme, the legislation essentially would serve as an unnecessary and additional tax on fuel. It would greatly increase airline costs and would compromise our ability to invest in new aircraft and other fleet upgrades - the very things we need to continue to improve our emissions profile."
Part of the bill calls for free credits to be distributed to industry for a grace period before establishing an auction system. The move comes after Representative John Dingell (D-Mich.) proposed legislation in the House calling for a tax of 50 cents a gallon on gas, including jet fuel, a $50 per ton carbon tax on burning oil, coal or natural gas along with reducing or eliminating interest tax deductions on 3,000+-square-foot homes. Related Story
Others are not waiting for legislation but rather petitioning the EPA to reduce emissions and targeting aviation as a major polluter, despite it stellar environment record compared to other transportation modes and industries. A coalition of states, cities and environmental groups criticized the U.S. government for being the only developed nation refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocals, citing the fact that Australia’s ratification of the protocols recently. The coalition is now petitioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce a massive source of global warming pollution: emissions from the global aircraft fleet. The only problem is its definition of “massive.” U.S. airlines contribute only two percent to pollution compared to road traffic and power plants, the two toughest nuts to crack when it comes to stemming the tide of global warming. Indeed, aviation only accounts for two percent of emissions worldwide. Related Story
Meanwhile, the group puts aviation’s contribution to CO2 emissions at three percent, a full percentage point higher than reality, but also said aviation was 12 percent of such emissions from the transportation sector, whereas on the world stage aviation accounts for about 20 percent. Finally, the group said globally, the United States is responsible for nearly half of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft.
For its part, industry agrees it wants to keep improving its environmental record, it also says that targeting aviation would do little to really impact global warming. While aviation is responsible for two percent of GHGs, it contributes eight percent to global GDP, an angle ignored in discussions abroad, according to the European Regions Airline Association. In fact, the biggest difference between U.S. and Europe is the attitude toward air transport. Europe does not see its economic contribution as relevant to its environmental efforts, whereas the US understands the role aviation plays in the economy with some government policies reflecting efforts to safeguard it as much as possible.
ATA recounted its contribution during its testimony saying U.S. commercial aviation is directly or indirectly responsible for 5.8 percent of gross output, 5.0 percent of personal earnings and 8.8 percent of national employment. This equaled $380 billion in earnings, 11.4 million jobs and $1.2 trillion in U.S. output in 2004.
Still, the environmental non-profit law firm, Earthjustice is taking the lead for the coalition, filing on behalf of conservation groups Oceana, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity to urge regulation of warming pollution from the global aircraft fleet under the requirements of the Clean Air Act. It requested a response from the EPA within 180 days. Giving its petition more oomph, however, is another petition filed by the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, New Jersey and New Mexico, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (smog control agency for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernadino counties in Southern California), the New York City (through its Corporation Counsel), the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the District of Columbia.
UK Legislator Threatens Leading Connecting Route
In an illustration of just how ridiculous the environment efforts can be, a British politician – former environmental minister John Gummer – wants a leading London connector route eliminated on environmental grounds, saying passengers should be forced to go by train. That would be equivalent to a congressman calling for the cancellation of all flights between Boston, New York and Washington or Los Angeles-San Francisco. You’ve got to admit, it would sure help congestion and we are almost surprised DOT/FAA hasn’t thought of it.
The politician there is no reason for the Manchester-London route as he responded to the Quality of Life Challenge report by a conservative politician. Perhaps he doesn’t know that Heathrow is a major hub connecting the country to the rest of the world although he did say that those heading for near-European destinations should also take the train. He noted 100,000 of the 470,000 annual Heathrow flights were to near-European destinations with good rail connections. He also said there are an increasing number of passengers on the 200-mile fast train route between Manchester and London as he called for the 32 scheduled flights to be grounded. They carry 1.5 million passengers to London’s four main airports. Let’s just hope they don’t all rush the trains at once or we’ll be hearing about the overwhelming congestion on rail service between the two cities.