Rockefeller Remarks on the EU's Emissions Trading System

June 6, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today gave the following opening statement at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing entitled "The European Union's Emissions Trading System."

The European Union’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) has elicited strong feelings from aviation stakeholders across the globe, which is why it is important that Congress examine its potential impact on international air travel.  Secretary LaHood will provide us a much-needed perspective from the Administration.  The United States has always led the world on aviation issues.  Implementing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should not be an exception to our legacy of leadership on aviation.

I am approaching this hearing with an open mind regarding the options that could be considered to reduce emissions in the aviation sector.  However, doing nothing is not an option.  Let me be clear.  I believe that the airline industry -- both in the United States and globally -- needs to take steps to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions now.  I do not discount or dismiss the technical and financial challenges to this effort, but the issue is too important for any business to ignore.

The aviation industry has consistently expressed that action should be taken to limit pollution from aircraft.  I am sure that all of the participants testifying at this hearing will confirm their commitment to develop a global solution on this issue.  Good intentions will not reduce emissions.  I want to know what you are actually doing to reduce emissions today and your plan for reducing them in the future.

I know that our witnesses believe that a process that is implemented with the agreement of all relevant parties will deliver a far more comprehensive system with much greater results than any plan that singles out flights operating into and out of one region of the world.  However, I fear that the industry’s desire to turn this over to ICAO is not to build consensus, but to delay and defer any real action.   I hope our witnesses can convince me otherwise.  

Many concerns have been raised regarding the unilateral imposition of the EU ETS on international and foreign airspace, the ability of the airline industry and its passengers to absorb additional costs, and the lack of a clear understanding of how any funds raised through this system would be spent.  These are not issues that can, or should, be easily dismissed.  Again, the difficulty of the challenge should not be the reason that we avoid undertaking it.  

The European Union acted because it believes it needed to make a bold effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and I understand why they did so.  But, I believe that their unilateral action is likely not sustainable by international law.  I support the goals, but I have to oppose the action.  We all need to work together to find a way to move forward on this issue that is both legally and politically sustainable.  

I hope this hearing and the discussions today will help us to develop a path forward to address aircraft emissions in a global manner in both the short-term and the long-term.