House Bill Clears Clean Aviation for Take-Off

House Bill Clears Clean Aviation for Take-Off

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This week, House Democrats will vote on a sweeping infrastructure package that will invest $1.5 trillion in repairing our transportation infrastructure, modernizing our electrical grid, expanding access to broadband, and much more. Getting less attention, but just as worthy of praise, is a division on aviation focused on reducing the industry’s carbon pollution.

And for good reason: aviation is responsible for nine percent of carbon emissions from the transportation sector, which is in turn the largest source of carbon emissions in the U.S. Airplane-based carbon emissions are expected to triple worldwide by 2050, so any effort to decarbonize transportation must include aggressive solutions for air travel. The Moving Forward Act will get the ball rolling by turbo-charging R&D efforts, putting a priority on aviation fuels that are truly sustainable, and unlocking funds for airports to cut emissions and increase resiliency.

The bill establishes a new $1 billion grant program for projects to develop, demonstrate, and deploy low-emission aircraft technologies and sustainable aviation fuels. On top of that, it authorizes an additional $150 million program to study and develop sustainable aviation fuels and increases funding for a team of universities that are assessing and reducing the environmental impacts of aviation technologies and fuels.

Not all fuels are created equal, and the House bill would ensure funds go towards developing fuels that are truly sustainable. While the grant program is otherwise fuel-neutral (allowing fuels derived from biomass, waste streams, and direct air capture for example), it would require producers to measure a fuel’s emissions on a life-cycle basis, including the emissions that come from producing and transporting it. This would exclude  the use of feedstocks that threaten mass deforestation or are otherwise unsustainable, and would ensure the fuels are produced in the U.S. to avoid long-distance transport.

The House bill will also help airports deploy the vehicles, equipment, and infrastructure necessary to mitigate and respond to climate change. The bill expands the successful Voluntary Airport Low-Emissions (VALE) Program, which is currently limited to airports in regions with air quality issues, to all airports. This will essentially quadruple the number of commercial airports that can use their annual Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds to purchase low-emission vehicles and ground support equipment, install alternative refueling infrastructure, and electrify their gates to reduce jet fuel consumption. The bill also makes resiliency projects eligible for AIP grant funds, so airports can better protect themselves against hurricanes, severe flooding, and other natural disasters exacerbated by climate change.

Taken together, the House bill includes hundreds of millions of dollars to make our airplanes more fuel efficient, our jet fuel more sustainable, and our airports cleaner and more resilient to climate change. Smart incentives, standards, and other policies that ensure the rapid adoption of these new technologies and fuels will still be needed. But the Moving Forward Act takes a major step towards cleaning up air travel that we should continue building on in the coming months.