All This Over $3?

| Tue Jan. 17, 2012 6:59 PM EST

Is the US going to start a trade war with the European Union over its efforts to cut planet-warming emissions from air travel? The US government has been threatening as much ever since the EU's plan to charge airlines for emissions was upheld in the European Court of Justice in December.

The fee has caused a flurry of outrage in Congress, and shortly before Christmas Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote a letter to the EU warning that unless the plan was abandoned, the US would be "compelled to take appropriate action." On Tuesday, the EU responded to Clinton's letter, declaring that it has no intention of dropping its plan because of the objections from the US, China, Russia, and other countries.

The Obama administration has been mulling retaliatory measures, which a senior administration official recently discussed with Reuters. Options include imposing new landing fees on European airlines, or some similar fee—which would probably make European airlines, and in turn European Union member countries, pretty unhappy.

But what often seems to go unmentioned is that the EU is actually only making international carriers pay for 15 percent of their emissions. They're giving away 85 percent of the permits. And a bunch of US-based airlines—American Airlines, US Airways, Delta, and United—have already announced that they plan to pass the costs onto customers. All whopping $3 per ticket of it.

A ticket to Europe will run you at least a few hundred bucks. Probably more like $1,000, depending on where you're going. Is that $3 really that big of a deal? It's especially ridiculous when you think about all the things you're charged for these days—checking luggage, carrying it on, printing your own ticket, having the airline print it for you, etc.—that don't have some specific benefit like fighting climate change.

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