US Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act Can Help Reduce Airline Emissions

EDF statement from Annie Petsonk, International Counsel

November 18, 2020
Raul Arce-Contreras, +1 (240) 480-1545,

U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) today introduced the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act, an innovative bill that takes a first step toward cutting the climate-harming pollution from airplanes. The bill sets clear targets for the aviation sector to cut these emissions to put the sector on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050, a goal set by science aiming to avert the most damaging climate disruptions. And the bill provides incentives for the production of high quality sustainable aviation fuels, with a requirement that all these fuels, at a minimum, meet international standards.  

“As airlines attempt to woo passengers back into the skies, they will need to put the climate challenge at the core of their recovery. Innovative, effective climate policy – like the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act – can help the aviation industry embrace the real goal, climate-neutral flight. What makes this bill innovative is that the tax credit is keyed to the amount of climate benefit the fuels actually deliver. The bill encourages fuel developers to produce fuels that meet and beat international and U.S. standards. 

“By taking into account what happens in the whole life cycle of making these fuels – from farms and forests to what comes out of the back of the engine – and only giving incentives for fuels that actually help the environment,  the bill ensures that the production of these fuels doesn’t cause more harm than good. Crucially, the bill builds on the foundation established by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which sets world standards for international flights. To receive the bill’s tax incentives, sustainable aviation fuels must achieve at least a 50% reduction in emissions compared to conventional jet fuel. 

“We applaud Congresswoman Brownley for introducing legislation to drive innovation and demand for high quality sustainable aviation fuels that have the potential to dramatically reduce airline emissions.”  

From 2005 to 2018, U.S. passenger air traffic more than doubled – and so did global aviation’s effective radiative forcing, which is the amount aviation is warming the planet and changing the climate.  

Airlines and the U.S. military can cut flight emissions by using high quality sustainable aviation fuels. Shifting demand from kerosene to these new fuels can benefit U.S. farmers who produce the fuels using sustainable agricultural methods. And U.S. workers will be needed to retrofit the aircraft so that it can burn the fuels at higher and higher blends (the current blend limit is 50%). 

The bill scales its incentives to the amount of life cycle emission reductions each new fuel actually achieves, taking into account direct and indirect effects of its production.

The bill is feedstock neutral, allowing fuels from sources such as garbage, waste gases from steel mills, wood waste, and agricultural crops that don’t compete with food – as long as they meet rigorous sustainability standards. 

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