By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama signed a bill on Tuesday shielding U.S. airlines from paying for each ton of carbon their planes emit flying into and out of Europe, despite a recent move by Europe to suspend its proposed measure for one year.
The carbon fee bill was the first piece of legislation debated on the House floor after Congress returned from recess on November 13, and had been cleared by the Senate in September in a rare unanimous vote.
It directs the U.S. transportation secretary to shield U.S. airlines from Europe's carbon emissions trading scheme (ETS) if he or she deems it necessary.
Lawyers have said the bill is unusual because it would prevent U.S. companies from complying with the laws of another country.
"The Obama administration is firmly committed to reducing harmful carbon pollution from civil aviation both domestically and internationally, but, as we have said on many occasions, the application of the EU ETS to non-EU air carriers is the wrong way to achieve that objective," Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said.
He added that the administration is focused on making progress toward a global solution to reduce emissions under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the U.N. body that deals with aviation issues.
The U.S. airline industry's main lobbying group, Airlines for America, praised Obama and said it, too, favored working through the ICAO to solve the problem. The group estimated that complying with the EU law would have cost U.S. airlines $3.1 billion between now and 2020.
"It never made a bit of sense for European governments to tax our citizens for flying over our own airspace — and with the passage of this law we've got the tools we need to prevent it from happening and protect American jobs," said Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, a co-author of the bill.
The House passed the bill despite a November 12 announcement that the European Union would "stop the clock" on enforcing its law for one year.
The European Commission said it would delay the application of its law to give ICAO enough time to craft a global framework to address emissions before the next assembly of all 190 members next autumn.
McCaskill and co-sponsor Republican Senator John Thune said in a statement that their bill had pressured the EU into delaying the enforcement of their cap-and-trade scheme for aviation. Continued...