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Airlines lose challenge to European emissions plan [Updated]

October 6, 2011 | 11:27 am



In a blow to U.S.-based airlines, a European advocate general rejected the airlines' challenge of a plan to charge carriers a fee if they exceed emission levels when flying in and out of Europe.

Several airline trade groups and carriers from the U.S. and Canada have objected to the plan to fight air pollution, saying it violates several international agreements and laws.

But Advocate General Juliane Kokott issued an opinion Thursday, rejecting the challenge. She said the pollution-fighting plan is compatible with all international laws and agreements.

Starting next year, carbon dioxide emissions from airlines will be capped at 97% of their average 2004-06 levels and 95% in 2013.

Airlines that don't use all their emissions allowances can sell the excess to other carriers that exceed the limits. The fine for violating the plan is 100 euros, or about $142, for every ton of carbon dioxide that airlines emit above the limit.

Airline officials in the U.S. say the fines could add up to $3.1 billion for all U.S. carriers from 2012 to 2020.

[Update 1:34 p.m.: The opinion was applauded by a coalition of environmental groups in the U.S. and Europe, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, and the Environmental Defense Fund. “Airlines operate in a global market, and the reality is that those markets will be increasingly carbon-constrained," said Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. "It’s time for the U.S. airlines to provide leadership and demonstrate that we can compete in the carbon-limited markets of the 21st century."]

 As advocate general, Kokott issues opinions for consideration by the Court of Justice of the European Union, which is expected to make a ruling on the dispute by early 2012.

A spokesman for the Air Transport Assn., a trade group for airlines in the U.S., said the court could still reject Kokott's opinion and decide in the favor of the airlines.

"Today’s action is an important step in the court process, but, as it is a non-binding, preliminary opinion, it does not mark the end of this case," said Steve Lott, a spokesman for the trade group.


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--Hugo Martin

Photo: A plane flies over London Heathrow Airport. Credit: Reuters