Travel: Greenwashing in the U.S. airline industry?

New European standard would cap greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes, but several U.S. airlines are sueing to block the regulations.

Major carriers sue to block European Union regs that would cap and reduce some airline greenhouse gas emissions

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Three of the largest U.S. airlines like to tout their green credentials, but out of the public eye they’re doing their best to gut meaningful environmental rules for the industry.

American Airlines and United both promoted their environmental initiatives in a campaign timed to coincide with Earth Day last month. American published an article, “AA Reduces Environmental Footprint”, in its in-flight magazine, and United promoted itself as an “environmentally friendly company” in its new, widely publicized “eco-skies” campaign.

But at the same time, both companies filed suit in a European court to block a European Union law that holds all airlines accountable for their global warming pollution from flights to, from and within Europe. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2012. American and United have also been lobbying the U.S. Congress to declare the EU law invalid.

“It takes a special kind of cynicism for corporations to launch greenwashing campaigns at the same time they’re filing a lawsuit directly challenging pollution standards set by duly elected governments,” Environmental Defense Fund attorney Annie Petsonk wrote in an email action alert.

Climate pollution from aviation grown 87 percent since 1990 in Europe alone and the International Panel on Climate Change estimates that aviation is now responsible for about 3.5 percent of climate-change pollution, a figure that could rise to as high as 15 percent by 2050.

Efforts to create international aviation standards have dragged on for more than a decade without resolution on  of what country is responsible for which climate emissions. The new European Union law caps aircraft emissions starting in 2012 and gradually reduces them through 2020.

Some forward-looking airlines, including British Airways, Air France, and KLM, are already taking steps to comply with the EU standards. But American and United have opted for obstruction over innovation.

As a result, six major environmental groups sent letters today to the CEOs of the two airlines, saying that it makes no sense “to spend [their] customers’ money on lawyers and lobbyists in an effort to thwart a crucial anti-pollution program.”

The environmental groups urged the airlines to drop the lawsuit, saying that, “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 letters were signed by the CEOs of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Earthjustice, Environment America, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club. EDF, CBD and Earthjustice have intervened in the litigation, in which oral argument is expected in Fall 2011.

EDF also today 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 requested that the airlines respond within a week indicating whether the ads will be accepted for publication.

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4 Responses

  1. The assumption that the EU regulations are based upon truthful science is wrong. This man-made global warming crap is nothing more than blaming the rooster for the sun coming up. These airlines are correct to fight this expensive over-regulation. England has already lost a lot of tourism dollars because of their higher-than-everyone else taxation of airline flights.

    • That is the problem, first, a person in denial must face the truth. All the science and evidence is the planet is facing seriouys man-made changes due to our carbon emissions from fossil fuels. The reason is that the external costs are not being address in the product. cost. We can no longer treat the open skies as a sewer.

  2. I would be curious to see how other US-based international carriers are dealing with this same issue. If the big two are worried about the costs of retro-fitting their fleets, I imagine that for smaller companies the expense could be even less manageable.

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