Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA) introduced the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act, legislation to incentivize the production of sustainable aviation fuel and help the aviation sector reduce carbon emissions.
“As a member of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation, I know the importance of, and challenges to, decarbonizing the aviation industry,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley. “Aviation alone contributes 9% to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector and is therefore a critical target toward achieving our climate goals. Sustainable aviation fuel will go a long way to reducing aviation sector greenhouse gas emissions but it needs a focused federal response to make it a reality.”
The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act includes a number of different policy options that Congress should consider that address the problem from different directions. It would create a new blender’s tax credit for SAF, linked to carbon reductions. 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. 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. This 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 at a quick enough pace.