Senate Votes to Block EU Plan for Plane Emissions

<a href="">caribb</a>/Flickr

The Senate voted unanimously over the weekend to block US airlines from participating in a carbon offset program for flights into and out of Europe. This might be the first issue in the past few years that enjoyed consensus support between the Senate and House, with agreement among both Republicans and Democrats. Too bad the consensus came on a measure to block the European Union’s efforts to do something about climate-changing emissions.

Since January, the European Union has insisted that airlines pay for carbon offsets for all international flights. Aviation emissions are huge—a roundtrip flight between London and New York creates “roughly the same level of emissions as the average person in the EU does by heating their home for a whole year,” according to the European Commission. And with more people flying on gas-guzzling aircraft than ever before, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) estimates that emissions from planes will increase 300 to 700 percent by 2050.

The cost of the program would have been transferred to the ticket-buyer, with the total bill for your ticket coming in a few dollars higher than it would have been otherwise. And if you can afford an expensive international trip, chances are you can afford a few extra bucks to pay for your emissions. That is, if you had even noticed the fee; given all the other taxes when you fly to Europe these days, the line item might not even have caught your eye.

But with the vote on Saturday, the Senate joined the House in blocking US airlines from participating in the program. From Reuters:

Republican Senator John Thune, a sponsor of the measure, said it sent a “strong message” to the EU that it cannot impose taxes on the United States.

“The Senate’s action today will help ensure that U.S. air carriers and passengers will not be paying down European debt through this illegal tax and can instead be investing in creating jobs and stimulating our own economy,” Thune said in a statement.

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, the measure’s other chief sponsor, said, “It’s refreshing to see strong, bipartisan support for the commonsense notion that Americans shouldn’t be forced to pay a European tax when flying in U.S. airspace.”

Environmental groups are urging President Obama to veto the bill. But the State Department and the Department of Transportation are already on record opposing the EU’s plan, so it seems likely that Obama will approve the new bill as well.

The bill states that the Secretary of Transportation could “reconsider the prohibition if the EU trading scheme is amended, an international alternative is agreed to, or the United States implements its own program to address aviation emissions.” But the US doesn’t seem likely to agree to either a domestic or international tax on aviation carbon anytime soon.


In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.