05.13.21

New Whitehouse Bill Would Decarbonize Emissions-Heavy Aviation Sector

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today introduced the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act, ambitious new legislation to decarbonize the emissions-heavy aviation sector and curb climate change. The legislation sets a goal of achieving net 35 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 and net zero emissions by 2050 in the U.S. aviation sector, and charts a path for reaching those benchmarks. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is cosponsoring the legislation.

“Air travel connects the world in all kinds of important ways, but it comes with a high price for our climate,” said Whitehouse. “The best solution is to transition away from fossil jet fuels and encourage the production of sustainable fuel alternatives that are just as safe for passengers and much safer for the planet.”

“I’m pleased to cosponsor Senator Whitehouse’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act,” said Feinstein. “Air travel is a significant contributor to climate change and we need to take strong action to reduce its emissions. This bill complements California’s low carbon fuel standard so aviation fuel can be used closer to where it’s produced and will help achieve the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 35 percent by 2035 and net zero emissions by 2050.”

The aviation sector accounts for a hefty 2.6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and 9 percent of emissions from the transportation sector. While advanced electrification and fuel cell technology are helping decarbonize surface transportation, the aviation sector continues to rely on liquid fossil fuels. However, there is a proven technology on the market that can significantly reduce aviation emissions: Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).

SAF is a drop-in fuel – an interchangeable substitute for fossil jet fuel up to a certain blending percentage. SAF that achieves at least a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gases compared to fossil jet fuel on a lifecycle basis will qualify for the various incentives in the new legislation. Multiple types of SAF have already been certified by American Society for Testing and Materials International as safe for use in airplanes, and more than 200,000 flights have flown with SAF in their fuel tanks over the past decade.

“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 Senator Whitehouse’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act,” said Brad Schallert, Director of Carbon Market Governance and Aviation, World Wildlife Fund.

The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act would:

  • Create a grant program authorized at $1 billion over five years to expand the number of facilities producing SAF and build out the necessary supporting infrastructure.
  • Require the Environmental Protection Agency to establish an aviation-only Low Carbon Aviation Fuel Standard that regulates aviation fuel producers and importers. Parties will have to comply with a carbon intensity benchmark that declines each year.
  • Require the Department of Defense to increase utilization of SAF to 10 percent beginning in Fiscal Year 2024, so long as the fuel is cost competitive with fossil jet fuel and readily available.
  • Require the Federal Aviation Administration’s Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and the Environment (ASCENT) to conduct additional research on ways to increase SAF fuel utilization in the aviation sector and the impact of aviation emissions on the climate crisis.
  • Require the Department of Energy, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, to research the use of cover crops in the production of SAF.
  • Establish a new Blender’s Tax Credit for SAF of between $1.50/gal and $1.75/gal. To prevent double dipping, SAF would no longer be eligible for the existing $1/gal Biodiesel Tax Credit.
  • Expand the existing energy Investment Tax Credit to include SAF production facilities and related infrastructure. The credit would be a 30 percent credit through 2026; 24 percent in 2027; 18 percent in 2028; and 12 percent from 2029 to 2035, at which point it fully phases out.

SAF is starting to be produced both in the U.S. and internationally, but not at a scale fast enough to achieve the nation’s long-term climate change goals. The same feedstocks used to produce SAF are also used to produce renewable diesel, which is primarily for ground transportation. If not corrected, the lack of policy incentives to produce SAF rather than cheaper renewable diesel will have long-term consequences for the climate.

Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA) introduced the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act in the House in February.

Full text of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Act is available here.