Dear Mr. President, here's your first big chance. You understand the dangers of climate change. In Hurricane Sandy's wake, you rightly said that our children do not deserve to inherit an America threatened by the "destructive power of a warming planet."
And now, after your victory over an opponent who mocked you for wanting to address the rising seas that have just devastated our Eastern shores, you have your first post-election chance to do the right thing: Veto a bill that recently landed on your desk -- the "European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act," which empowers U.S. airlines to thumb their noses at the European Union's eminently reasonable effort to tackle carbon emissions from airplanes using European airports.
This harmful bill, introduced by Sen. John Thune, deserves your veto for three reasons:
1. The Thune bill attacks a cost-effective way of reducing greenhouse gas pollution.
Airplanes spew horrendous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Aviation accounts for about 2 percent of carbon emissions from the U.S. transportation sector and is one of the fastest-growing sources of carbon pollution, rising 3 to 4 percent per year. But airlines have managed to stymie international negotiations to curb these emissions for the last 15 years.
The European Union's carbon emissions permit process finally ends this Kabuki theater with a market-based carbon permit trading scheme expected to cut airline pollution dramatically -- the estimated effect is like taking 30 million cars out of operation by 2020.
And the price is right: The European plan would add about $3 to the cost of a typical trans-Atlantic flight. Because some permits will be free initially, U.S. airlines will likely make money on the deal. It's simple, market-based, and cheap -- and it will create jobs as airplanes and aviation infrastructure are redesigned and upgraded for efficiency. It's exactly what you called for: a way to address climate change that also helps "our economy and jobs and growth."
But the Thune bill allows airlines to refuse to pay for permits and refuse to comply with our allies' laws. Worse yet, if Europe fines the scofflaws, U.S. taxpayers, not the airlines, will be stuck with the bill. Nasty, expensive trade wars are sure to follow. The Thune bill is bad for the climate, bad policy and bad for our economy.
Not only must we support our European allies, but here in the United States, we must also drive airplane efficiency and reduce carbon pollution through the Clean Air Act, a four-decade old law that saves lives and creates benefits far outweighing the costs. Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency has ignored petitions for aviation carbon pollution standards and dragged its feet on applying the Act to airplanes for some five years already.
You negotiated the deal that led to Clean Air Act rules for cars and trucks that nearly doubled their fuel efficiency. Now you should order the Environmental Protection Agency to create efficiency standards for airplanes as soon as possible.
2. Shielding airlines from paying for carbon permits emboldens all polluters.
The fossil fuel industry backed Mitt Romney, who vowed to thwart all climate change regulations. Your victory -- and your strong statements about global warming's risks -- have polluters on the defensive.
They're afraid of finally having to take responsibility for their huge role in putting our planet on the path to warm by as much as 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.
But responsibility for our actions is exactly the point of Europe's Aviation Directive, which simply holds airlines accountable for emissions associated with their commercial flights that land at or take off from EU airports. As the highest European court of justice has declared, Europe has the right to safeguard its citizens from the dangers of climate change, especially regarding greenhouse gas pollution emitted by planes using European airports.
U.S. airlines have spent millions on lobbying and legal efforts to defeat Europe's reasonable plan. If you sign the Thune bill, you will send a clear signal that even modest carbon pollution regulations can be halted if industry throws a big enough tantrum. Polluters might start to think that climate change talk is just a bunch of hot air -- and that will make cutting emissions much harder in the years ahead.
3. A veto will show the gloves are off in the climate change fight.
The next four years will be critical. As you begin your second term, the window of opportunity is about to slam shut on our ability to avert the worst impacts of climate change, according to a recent report from the International Energy Agency. This highly respected organization concluded that "[t]here are few signs that the urgently needed change in direction in global energy trends is underway."
To avert climate chaos, we must leave two-thirds of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, as the IEA made clear in another report released this month.
That won't be easy. But unlike politicians, Mother Nature doesn't negotiate or compromise. Soaring rhetoric and half-measures won't reduce the growing risk of extreme weather. And they won't preserve a livable climate that you can bequeath to Sasha and Malia -- and every other child on earth.
To win this battle for our world's future, you need to start strong, stay strong -- and veto this bill.