Changes in US emissions policy remain unclear

Washington DC
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As the first full week of Barack Obama's administration comes to a close, aviation stakeholders expect the newly-inaugurated President to move forward with emissions reduction plans.

But while Obama has already inked two memorandums aimed at automobile emissions, his aviation strategy remains unclear.

Obama campaigned on a platform that included the creation of an economy-wide, market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon pollution. His goal is an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but details have not been outlined.

While Obama has been clear about his support for mandatory climate change measures, less is known about how such measures will apply to aviation, and whether the industry's fuel efficiency record will be taken into account, Air Transport Association of America (ATA) VP of environmental affairs Nancy Young says.

A cap-and-trade programme does not necessarily translate to a unilateral emissions trading scheme (ETS) similar to what Europe has developed, Young says, adding she would be surprised if the new administration does not challenge the legality of Europe's ETS.

Regardless of what shape forthcoming measures take, mandatory climate change policy represents "a significant departure from the outgoing president", she says.

Former President Bush threatened legal action against European efforts to include all carriers operating to and within Europe in its ETS, and would have likely vetoed legislation to create a domestic greenhouse gas trading programme aimed at transportation, electric power and manufacturing.

"Overall we think there is a lot of synergy between airlines' interest and the direction the President [Obama] wants to take," Young says.

But even as the new administration outlines its greenhouse gas policies, the economic downturn is taking precedence.

Regional Airline Association (RAA) manager of industry and regulatory affairs Liam Connolly says environmental policy is expected to be less of a priority early on. "If we had a stronger economy, it would probably be higher. Their main focus will be, 'how do we turn [the] economy around?'" Connolly says.