US has no respect for European law

Sunday October 30 2011

By CHEGE MBITIRU

Federal legislators in the United States can be excruciatingly overbearing. A law aimed at protecting US air carriers from European Union gas emissions control illustrates.

At issue is the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, or emissions cap-and-trade. Now in its second phase, it’s been Operational in the EU member states since 2005. The phase ends next year, and the third in 2020.

The EU aims to cut carbon emissions by big polluters. Included are power generators, steel, cement and ceramics manufacturers. By 2020, the EU hopes the cut to be down by 21 per cent on 2005 levels. That’s laudable.

Technical details and hitches aside, the scheme works this way:

The EU allocates members the amounts of carbon emission they are permitted, a kind of pollution licence. The members distribute, in tonnes, the allocations to the selected sectors.

Those sectors that emit more than their allocations can buy additional tonnes. Those that don’t can sell.

Come the third phase after next year and the EU plans to increase the number of gases in the scheme. Additionally, airlines, estimated contribute three per cent of carbon emissions worldwide, will fall into the scheme.

This means the EU will require airlines to and from member states to account for emissions, let’s say from Chicago to Berlin, US air space and the Atlantic Ocean included. The US Congress says “no way.” The Senate remains mum.

A week today Congress passed by a voice vote—that’s how popular the legislation was—a law exempting US carriers from the EU’s requirements.

The bill directs the transportation secretary to prohibit US carries to participate in the scheme and imposes a $25,000 fine daily on those who dare.

Additionally, the legislation directs federal agencies to ensure the Emissions Trading scheme doesn’t penalise US carriers. That’s telling European nations “we will fly in and out as we wish.”

Undoubtedly, the lawmakers acted at the implicit behest of the US air transportation sector. In 2009, the American, United and Continental Airlines jointly with the Air Transportation Association of America, ATA—Canadian and Mexican carries included—challenged the scheme at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

The plaintiffs argued the emissions rules violate international aviation agreements. The court is yet to rule.

At home, the ATA claims the cost of compliance would hit $3.1 billion by 2020. It also calls the cap-and trade an “exorbitant tax that siphons away from aviation the very funds it needs to continue to invest in aircraft technology, sustainable alternative fuels and infrastructure advances.” That’s a dubious assertion. The ATA isn’t in any of these ventures.

Anyway, the US isn’t the only country opposed to the EU requirements. Japan, Brazil, and India are among 20 nations crying foul. They all have concerns that are real. They aren’t threatening a trade war, though.

However, Congress is not only doing that but also ordering US companies to violate other countries’ laws or pay a fine. That’s not just bullying and rouge it’s also abetting an offence.

Hopefully, the Senate will see that. If it doesn’t, President Barak Obama will veto the bill. Otherwise, the US might as well stop lecturing rogue nations on the rule of law.