Amid greenwashing claims, US environmental groups tell their major airlines to drop opposition to EU ETS

Amid greenwashing claims, US environmental groups tell their major airlines to drop opposition to EU ETS | Environmental Defense Fund

Mon 16 May 2011 – Major American environmental groups have sharply criticised leading US airlines over lobbying and legal efforts to prevent their inclusion in Europe’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) from next year while “simultaneously bragging” about their environmental performance. Leaders of the six groups – the Environmental Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Environment America, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club – have written to the CEOs of American Airlines and United Airlines (which has recently merged with Continental Airlines) to denounce the airlines for bringing the suit at the European Court of Justice. A ruling on the court’s decision is not expected until early next year at the earliest but US criticism over the Aviation EU ETS continues elsewhere.


The environmental groups refer to both American Airlines and United promoting their green initiatives around Earth Day last month, with the former publishing an article, ‘AA reduces environmental footprint’, in its in-flight magazine American Way, and United describing itself as an “environmentally friendly company” in its new ‘eco-skies’ campaign.


The letter notes that if the two airlines are committed to reducing their environmental impact and protecting the earth then “it makes no sense to spend [their] customers’ money on lawyers and lobbyists in an effort to thwart a crucial anti-pollution programme.” The groups urged the airlines to drop the lawsuit, saying: “Innovation, not obstruction, is what’s needed now ... [J]oin the future of low-carbon aviation by making your actions consistent with your words.”


The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has also submitted advertisements to American Airlines’ American Way and United/Continental’s Hemispheres in-flight magazines, calling on the airlines to “start flying cleaner” and to stop “dragging their wings”. EDF has requested the airlines to respond by this week whether they will accept the advertisements for publication.


EDF, Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice have intervened in the litigation, in which EDF expects oral argument to be heard later this year.


The case was first brought by the three airlines, and backed by the Air Transport Association of America, against the UK government in December 2009, with both parties agreeing for it to be heard by the European Court of Justice. The airlines contend their inclusion in the EU ETS contravenes articles in the Chicago Convention, the treaty that binds international civil aviation, and are being supported in the case by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Other environmental groups are supporting the European view that the Aviation EU ETS is in compliance with the treaty.


At the recent Air Transport World Eco-Aviation conference, Julie Oettinger, Assistant Administrator - Policy, International Affairs and Environment at the Federal Aviation Administration said the EU’s “unilateral” inclusion of the US airlines was “counter-productive”, arguing that a globally harmonised approach to CO2 emissions was demanded.


The Obama Administration has yet to declare its hand, at least publicly, on where it stands on the issue. However, in a reservation statement issued after the passing of the aviation and climate change resolution at last October’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Assembly, the US ambassador to ICAO said “States must engage in constructive negotiations in order for market-based measures to be applied.”


In its reservation statement, Europe maintained that “The Chicago Convention contains no provision which might be construed as imposing upon the Contracting Parties the obligation to obtain the consent of other Contracting Parties before applying the market-based measures referred to in Resolution A37-17/2 to operators of other States in respect of air services to, from or within their territory. On the contrary, the Chicago Convention recognises expressly the right of each Contracting Party to apply on a non-discriminatory basis its own laws and regulations to aircraft of all States.”



Update 16 May 2011 – According to a spokesperson for EDF, both United and American have since rejected the advertisement, with American saying it was policy not to run ads that can be perceived as targeting or highlighting social and/or political issues.



Update 19 May 2011 – The Air Transport Association has responded on behalf of the criticised airlines in an open letter from Nancy Young, ATA’s VP Environment, to the heads of the six environmental groups. She told GreenAir: “While we typically address these types of issues more one-on-one with the organisations raising concerns, the environmental groups’ very public approach has required us to be more public in our response to set the record straight.”


In the letter, she outlined actions the industry was taking to reduce its environmental impact. “ATA and its members are part of a broad group of the aviation industry that is seeking to address aircraft greenhouse gas emissions at a global level, through legal measures rather than through a patchwork of differing measures of dubious legality,” she wrote.


 ATA called on the groups to correct their “misstatements” and invited further dialogue on the issue.




Letters to American Airlines (pdf) and United Continental (pdf)

EDF advertisement (pdf)

Environmental Defense Fund

Center for Biological Diversity


Environment America

Natural Resources Defense Council

Sierra Club

American Airlines – ‘Flight plan for a smaller footprint’

United Continental – Eco-Skies



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