Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA) introduced the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act, legislation to incentivize the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and help the aviation sector reduce carbon emissions.
“We are facing an existential threat to the future of our planet. In order to face this threat head on, we must be creative, be innovative, and act quickly. We must do so wherever we can make a difference,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley. “Sustainable aviation fuel is a key component to decarbonize the aviation industry, but we need to scale up production and distribution if we are to achieve our climate goals.”
“Airlines must put climate change at the center of their recovery, and sustainable aviation fuels can play an important role in reducing the industry’s environmental impact. Rep Brownley’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act will drive innovation and demand for high-quality sustainable aviation fuels that could dramatically lower airline emissions,” said Kelley Kizzier, Vice President of Global Climate, Environmental Defense Fund.
“Aviation emissions are projected to triple by 2050, but there is a route for the aviation industry to support a climate-safe and more environmentally sound future for the planet. Powering planes with sustainable aviation fuels is an indispensable step along this journey, and Congress can help realize it by passing Rep. Brownley’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act,” said Brad Schallert, Director of Carbon Market Governance and Aviation, World Wildlife Fund.
“Strong standards are needed to rapidly decarbonize transportation, and a Low Carbon Aviation Fuel Standard is a smart strategy to drive innovation in a hard-to-decarbonize part of the transportation sector. We appreciate Rep. Brownley’s leadership and look forward to working together to build a cleaner transportation future,” said Jeremy Martin, Senior Scientist and Director of Fuels Policy, Union of Concerned Scientists.
The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act includes a number of different policy options that Congress should consider that address SAF production and distribution challenges from different directions. The bill would create a new blender’s tax credit for SAF, linked to carbon reductions, as well as an Investment Tax Credit to help finance new SAF facilities and infrastructure. It would authorize $1 billion in federal funding for U.S. projects that produce, transport, blend, or store SAF. It would authorize $175 million in research funding to push the limits of existing SAF technology to try to lower SAF carbon emissions even more. It would require the EPA to establish an aviation-only Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) similar to California’s successful transportation-wide LCFS.
The aviation sector accounts for 2.6 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and 9 percent of emissions by the U.S. transportation sector. While decarbonization of surface transportation modes is focused heavily on electrification and fuel cell technology, the development of such technology in the aviation industry is just beginning. So, in the near term, the aviation sector will continue to be reliant on liquid fuels.
SAF is a drop-in fuel, which is an interchangeable substitute for fossil jet fuel up to a certain blending percentage. It therefore functions the same as fossil jet fuel while also meeting certain sustainability criteria. For the purposes of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act, only SAF that achieves at least a 50% reduction in greenhouse gases compared to fossil jet fuel on a lifecycle basis will qualify for the various incentives in the bill. Multiple types of SAF have been certified by ASTM International as safe for use in airplanes up to certain maximum blending limits.
Since 2011, more than 200,000 flights have used SAF. However, while SAF is beginning to be produced both in the U.S. and internationally, it is not being done fast enough to achieve our long-term climate change goals. Additionally, the same feedstocks that are used to produce SAF are also used to produce renewable diesel (RD), which is primarily used in ground transportation and cannot be used for aviation. RD is marginally cheaper to produce than SAF and enjoys policy incentives that SAF does not, which means that producers are incentivized to make RD rather than SAF. Congress must fix this policy disparity. Failure to do so will have long-term consequences for the climate, because ground transportation has better options to decarbonize than aviation does, namely through electrification and fuel-cells, and waiting to build out sufficient SAF production infrastructure could hinder the aviation sector’s ability to decarbonize quickly.