AP FACT CHECK: Biden’s half-baked lens for cleaner jet fuel

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DALLAS (AP) – President Joe Biden and his team are promoting a deal with the U.S. airline industry to cut greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft by 20% by the end of the decade, but the deal might not work.

In an announcement Thursday, the White House unveiled a series of measures to reduce emissions linked to climate change. The administration is also setting itself the goal of replacing all of today’s kerosene-based jet fuel with cleaner or “sustainable” fuel by 2050.

Climate experts say that while the effort is laudable, the administration’s approach is ambitious and unrealistic. The targets are voluntary, and strong government support will be needed to offset the higher cost of sustainable fuel – up to three times more than regular fuel.

Airlines have actually been talking about sustainable jet fuel for years and even making small investments in it, but that may turn out to be a vision beyond the reach Biden promised. Airlines executives have expressed particular concern that “flight shaming” – famously advocated by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg – could spread across the United States if companies are seen as indifferent to the environment.

WHITE HOUSE, touting Biden’s measures to engage government, aircraft manufacturers, airlines and fuel suppliers to boost the use of cleaner fuels: the measures “will result in the production and use of billions of dollars. gallons of sustainable fuel that will reduce aviation emissions by 20% by 2030 compared to the status quo. “

THE FACTS: This is a giant leap that will be very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 2.4 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, were produced in the United States in 2019. In contrast, airlines burned 21.5 billion gallons of fuel. ordinary that year. This means that just over 0.01% of the country’s supply currently comes from sustainable fuel.

The airline industry says closing the gap will require bold action, including subsidies and tax credits for producers, government support for research, and more. Biden is asking for an SAF tax credit as part of a $ 3.5 trillion spending bill brought to Congress by Democrats, but its outcome remains uncertain. Even with that money, it’s not clear that all of these things would be enough to meet the administration’s lofty goals, aviation experts say.

“Lofty goals like this don’t move markets,” says Dan Rutherford, who oversees aeronautical research at the International Council for Clean Transportation, a Washington-based environmental group.

Without a government mandate or “very strong incentives,” says Rutherford, “I doubt that much FAS will be generated. He notes that the International Air Transport Association, a global trade group for airlines, had a voluntary target of 10% sustainable fuel by 2017 and that the federal government had a target of 1 billion gallons per year. by 2018, “and neither have come close. “

Liz Jones, a climate lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the administrative plan “is largely based on biofuel aspirations that are just not grounded in reality.”

Airlines have announced pledges to become carbon neutral by mid-century, and some have invested in sustainable fuel to defend against criticism of aviation’s role in climate change. Airplanes produce only about 3% of global heat trapping emissions, but their share is growing rapidly.

Jones says, however, that nothing in the administration’s plan would force the airlines to keep their promises.

“And even the best of times don’t reduce climate pollution fast enough,” she says. “Biden’s EPA must now set strict emissions standards for airplanes, and not get bogged down in the myth of sustainable fuels for airlines. ”

White House and airline trade groups rely on tax credits to produce three billion gallons per year by 2030. Airline trade groups push Congress to enact 1.50 tax credit at $ 2 per gallon, depending on the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the fuel. when burnt.

Airlines for America, a trading group of America’s largest airlines, previously set a goal of producing 2 billion gallons of sustainable fuel by 2030. This week, the group agreed to support the White House’s goals.

Airline Chairman Nicholas Calio said airlines “are proud of our track record on climate change, but we know the challenge of climate change has only intensified,” and so its goal of sustainable fuel.

Airlines are also placing orders and investing in startups that design planes powered by electricity or hydrogen. Some manufacturers aim to bring small electric planes up to 19 seats into service by the end of the decade.

“We want to operate planes that are very good for the environment in the long term,” said Andrew Nocella, commercial director of United Airlines this week. “How they are formed and when they are created is still a bit to be determined (to be determined). “

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Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.

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Editor’s note – A look at the veracity of the assertions of political figures.

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