Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 20, 2020


Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

Congress Urged to Hold Airlines Accountable on Climate, Workers

200 Groups Oppose Unconditional Coronavirus Bailout

WASHINGTON— More than 200 climate, environmental, social-justice and workers' rights groups urged Congress today to make any federal relief for the U.S. aviation industry contingent on airlines cutting carbon pollution and supporting airline workers during the coronavirus crisis.

Today’s letter called on the House and Senate to reject the unconditional bailout requested by the aviation industry. Federal funds should be granted only if airlines agree “to take necessary steps to ensure the safety of our climate, impacted workers, and affected communities,” the letter said.

“Any bailout needs to acknowledge that we are in a climate emergency, and drive the airline industry towards a zero-emission future,” said Jane Fonda, a climate activist with Fire Drill Fridays who signed the letter. “If airline executives want taxpayers to bail them out, they need to commit to cutting pollution and protecting the industry’s workers.”

As part of the bailout, the groups say, the EPA should be ordered to finalize emissions standards that require at least a 2.5% per year reduction in emissions, an absolute cap on total greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. airplane fleets, and a reform of slot usage rules to discourage wasteful flight routes.

“Congress shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of past bailouts by giving the airline industry billions with no strings attached,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The airlines have resisted calls for curbing their pollution for years, and now they have to become stewards of our climate if they want our money.”

The U.S. airline industry has called for as much as $60 billion in unconditional federal bailout money, despite the record profits it raked in during the 2010s. During that time, industry executives spent 96% of available cash on hand to buy back airline stock.

“Our first responsibility should be to take care of the employees who make the airlines run and protect their health and economic well-being,” said Joe Uehlein, president of Labor Network for Sustainability. “When a worker loses their job through no fault of their own they should be made whole. Corporations and their executives are well positioned to take care of themselves.”

Commercial aviation currently accounts for 12% of all U.S. transportation CO2 emissions and 2.4% of CO2 emissions around the globe. This number is expected to grow in the coming decade if the industry does not adopt long-overdue emissions guidelines.

“Congress should not bail out the airline industry without addressing the industry's implicit role in the climate crisis and the wellbeing of airline employees,” said Hallie Templeton with Friends of the Earth. “This industry has consistently failed to meet its obligations to the environment and its workers. Congress must address and enforce these necessary obligations before providing any financial handouts.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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