Reprinted from the New York Times

Written by: James Kanter

All airlines using European airports are going to be regulated under the European Emissions Trading System from January 2012. That means even American carriers will eventually have to buy some carbon permits to comply with European Union law.

United States government officials have said in the past that the initiative is probably illegal under the convention governing international civil aviation. The main group representing the world’s airlines, the International Air Transport Association, has complained bitterly about the cost of the system.

On Wednesday, the European Commission published a list of carriers that may need to buy permits — and they include big United States carriers like American Airlines and United Airlines.

One reason that the Europeans have acted so confidently to cap airline emissions is that both candidates for the American presidency said last year that they would support the establishment of an emissions trading system in the United States similar to the one operating in Europe. Many European Union officials thought that it stood to reason that the United States would extend that system to cover aviation, thus relieving the current trans-Atlantic tension.

European Union officials said Wednesday that they did not yet have a clear idea whether the Obama administration had taken a position different from the Bush administration on the European system to cap emissions from foreign operators and carriers.

Under the European system, each European Union country will be responsible for selling permits to individual airlines that use that country’s airports most frequently. The idea is to reduce the administrative burden, but it also potentially means big revenues for countries with busy airports.

The list published on Wednesday does not say how much money countries stand to reap, nor how much it would cost airlines. But Britain looks set to benefit most from the system because so many foreign, as well as domestic, carriers use its airports.

Britain would oversee about 780 carriers and operators, including American Airlines, United Airlines, Wal-Mart Stores and Bechtel. Britain also would oversee other large commercial carriers like Qantas Airways of Australia, Emirates of the United Arab Emirates, and Cathay Pacific of China.

France would oversee about 470 carriers and operators including Air Algérie, Air France, All Nippon Airways, Coca-Cola and United Technologies.

Tiny Latvia, by contrast, will oversee five carriers and operators including Air Baltic, a national carrier. Poland will oversee about 45 carriers and operators including Lot, a national carrier.

Under European Union law, airlines will have to buy 15 percent of their quota of permits in 2012 based on past emissions.

At the moment there is no set price for those permits. But European Union officials said on Wednesday that the price would probably be partly set by the European carbon market (where a ton of carbon currently trades at 9.30 euros, or $12) and partly by member states under rules that still need to be finalized.

The list was compiled by the European Commission with the help of Eurocontrol, an organization responsible for air traffic management in Europe, and based on “best available information of flight movements within the E.U.”

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said companies like Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola are included in the list because they operate private flights that meet the criteria for inclusion in the emissions control system, according to the preliminary assessment by Eurocontrol.

The commission said it could publish a revised list in coming months based on feedback from the industry. The list then would be updated annually to take account of new carriers and operators.