The House Aviation Subcommittee is holding a hearing today on the environmental impact of aviation, especially emissions. I won’t be able to cover the entire session, but I’ll give you what I can.
Representative Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) offers his opening statement. He emphasizes that the need to reduce emissions is a corollary of the need to increase fuel efficiency for financial reasons. He is interested in hearing about alternative fuels. “We provided historic levels of funding” in HR 2881 to improve environmental performance, upgrade air traffic control, improve efficiency, and support aviation research.
In light of the European Union’s emissions-trading scheme (ETS), he says, “due to the global nature of aviation, any effort to reduce emissions must be done through ICAO” without affecting economic growth.
Ranking Member Tom Petri (R-Wisc.) praises recent technological achievements that will improve fuel efficiency. Raises concern that including U.S. airlines in European ETS would violate the recently-signed Open Skies agreement.
Costello introduces the first panel. David Fahey, a research physicist with NOAA, goes first. Results of his assessments are derived from IPCC studies (see here). Aviation contributes to climate change, he says, by alterating particles of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, resulting in “radiative forcing” — “pushing the climate away from its natural state.” Three uniquely climate-related qualities of aviation emissions:
- Airplanes use fossil fuels
- Emissions at cruise altitute, allowing emissions to have greater effect than if they occured on the earth’s surface
- Emissions increase cloudiness, which contributes to climate change.
“Aviation has a unique role in climate change.” Current estimates indicate that aviation accounts for 3 percent of radiative forcing. “Uncertainties and knowledge gaps” are associated with aviation’s effects on climate change, especially on the impact of contrails on forming cirrus clouds
FAA associate administrator for policy, planning, and environment Daniel Elwell lists myths about the U.S. response to aviation emissions. “Myth: aviation is the fast-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.” He says that 3 percent is not a huge effect. “The largest aviation market in the world is burning less fuel today than in 2000.” The effect of CO2 is the same at altitude as on the ground.
Fuel efficiency of aircraft has improved by 70 percent over the past decade. He says that European aviation emissions increased three times faster in recent years than U.S. emissions. He says that the U.S. is happy to participate in market-based environmental initiatives, as long as they are “based on mutual consent.” The European ETS is not.
Elwell says the FAA is currently pursuing the following:
- Improve our understandings of aviation emissions.
- Accelerate ATC management improvements and efficiencies.
- Hasten environment improvements in aviation technology.
FAA will pursue “science-based” program to address climate change.
Gerald Dillingham of the Government Accountability Office. Aviation emissions can have adverse effects. Emissions have been falling, but rising air travel has “partially offset” these cuts. Doubtful that technology to reduce emissions can keep up with demand for air travel.
Technology of NextGen can reduce aviation emissions, but NextGen needs to be implemented and deployed. Perhaps FAA should open a NextGen coordinating office.
Congress should stem decline in funding for “aeronautical research” by passing the FAA reauthorization bill. Congress should also consider “market-based mechanisms” for dealing with climate change.
Costello: How can we improve the science?
Fahey: “Any assessment of aviation’s climate impact . . . needs to have a scenario of what the future of aviation is going to be.” Government needs to work with industry and other stakeholders to craft vision and forecasts for the future. This will narrow and focus policy options and scientific research.
Costello: What are the implications of research gap for aeronautical technologies?
Dillingham: NASA has traditionally done this research. It readjusted its portfolio of activity, leaving a gap from what it does to where industry can pick up and run with the research.
Costello: What action would FAA take if the EU applies ETS to U.S. carriers?
Elwell: U.S. government is against effort to include U.S. airlines in ETS, but not opposed to emissions reduction programs across the board. “The problem with ETS has been in its unilateralism . . . the unilateral nature of it has been unacceptable to the U.S.”
Elwell: Aviation’s emissions so frequently occur in international airspace; a multilateral solution is needed. “The rest of the world still thinks ICAO has the mandate to lay out a global framework.”
Petri: Can positive incentives work? [Incentives are incentives. An emissions scheme penalizes an airline by incentivizing it to pursue improved technologies. --ed.]
Steve Kagen (D-Wisc.): Has the administration considered measures to include Chinese emissions in any cap-and-trade proposal? [He spoke of the problem of Chinese emissions drifting in the air over to the U.S. West Coast --ed.]
Elwell: Administration does not support a cap-and-trade approach.
Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.): What are the effects of emissions at different altitudes?
Fahey: Altitude is a key element of the effect of aviation’s emissions. Effects vary. CO2 does not affect atmosphere any differently at altitudes, but nitrous oxides do, affecting ozone and methane. “That aspect of aviation is one that stands out.” Water vapor is another issue, as are contrails.
Costello recesses the hearing, then moves to an open briefing by Ambassador John Bruton, who represents the EU to the U.S. He is a former Taoiseach of Ireland.
The inclusion of aviation in ETS is controversial, he acknowledges; but aviation emits far more CO2 than other industries included in ETS, such as steel and oil, making this an “equity” issue for ETS.
He notes several contributions that the EU has made to promote technological developments that will help aviation reduce its emissions. “Working along the same lines as the United States” in technological improvements. The EU is also working to improve air traffic management, especially in terms of routings and descent slopes.
Improve efficiency gains will be only 1 to 2 percent against industry growth of 5 percent, leading to emissions growth of 3 to 4 percent. The EU has pursued cap-and-trade. He says the EU tried but failed to get something working through ICAO. It seeks an ETS that is “interoperable” with other countries’ and regions’.
Costello: What about environmental taxes, like those of the British or the Dutch?
Bruton: The ETS is intended to replace these “green” taxes when it is applied to aviation.
Subcommittee breaks for votes; Peter DeFazio takes the chair to continue the briefing. [Added: here follows a harsh argument.]
DeFazio: How would you assess the tax or levy on foreign carriers?
Bruton: It’s not a tax, but it would be associated with how much fuel is used.
DeFazio: How is the cost assessed on fuel?
Bruton: “I don’t have the rates that I can give you.”
DeFazio: How will the proceeds of the levy be applied?
Bruton: Finance activities that would further reduce emissions.
DeFazio: So you would levy a charge on a flight from Los Angeles to Heathrow for your own benefit? “You want to tax our airlines to improve your own system?” Says it’s a violation of international law to apply a tax on activities outside of a jurisdiction’s airspace.
Bruton: “We are confident that this proposal is legally robust.”
DeFazio: ICAO doesn’t think so. “Do you want a trade war?”
Bruton: Emissions from U.S. airlines are more than 2.5 times per head than in Europe. “Those emissions from the United States are damaging the environment for everyone else.”
DeFazio cuts Bruton off brusquely and changes the subject.
DeFazio: “Cap-and-trade failed.” A regulatory approach is better than a market-based approach [Yes, he said it! --ed.]
Bruton: “Our cap-and-trade system has not been a failure. It has worked very well.” We’ve reduced our greenhouse gas emissions, while they’ve increased “in the country you represent.”
DeFazio criticizes “speculative” market activity.
Bruton: All markets involve an element of speculation. “Markets work.”
DeFazio gets up and leaves. Bruton protests that he has not been given a chance to answer, and DeFazio invites him to address the empty room. The hearing recesses, and this is where my liveblog ends.