Port of Seattle and Washington state coalesce for sustainable aviation fuels

March 21, 2019 |

Port of Seattle Sustainable Aviation Fuel Summit Conference.

By Fred Felleman, Port of Seattle Commissioner
Special to The Digest

Despite our reputation as environmentally progressive and determined protectors of the climate, Washington state has not kept up with its neighbors to the north and south when it comes to a clean fuel standard or supply. We know how to make the fuel. Washington state is home to innovative biofuel production companies. Yet, our manufacturers export their supply to California, Oregon, and British Columbia where a statewide “clean fuel standard” policy creates a more profitable market.

With the Washington legislature’s consideration of a Clean Fuel Standard and commitments from the aviation and transportation industries, Washington is closer than ever before to addressing this gap in our sustainability agenda. This is a critical time for our environment. This requires that all of us in Washington state, the home of aviation, collaborate to develop a local supply chain.

One sign of that progress was the incredible talent that came together at Washington state’s first ever Sustainable Aviation Fuels Summit, sponsored by Earth Day Northwest 2020, Port of Seattle, Boeing, Alaska Air, and Delta Air Lines, and led by Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, former Secretary of U.S. Navy Ray Mabus, Port of Seattle Commissioners and industry leaders. We look forward to the work that will be done as a result of these conversations to develop a Washington-based supply chain. Our partners at Boeing, Alaska Airlines and World Energy made an exciting announcement during the Summit to offering biofuel for airlines to fly new airplanes home. Alaska will be the first airline to participate in the program.

The second sign of progress is that the Washington State Legislature is considering a clean fuel standard for our state with HB 1110. The bill passed the House on March 12, 2019 and now proceeds to the Senate Environment, Energy, and Technology Committee. This is an essential underpinning to the production of biofuels in Washington state.

This is a make or break time for the climate and for the transportation sector. Transportation contributes more carbon emissions than any other sector in the state. While cars and trucks have market-ready options that could dramatically reduce GHG emissions and particulates, there are currently no other options for aviation than switching to an alternative fuel source now. Furthermore, improvements in the efficiency of new on-road vehicles has resulted in a decline in fuel use, but increases in air travel have resulted in overall emissions going up.

While aviation contributes just a slice of those emissions, the Port of Seattle is determined to reduce the carbon emissions from jet fuel. We set a goal to power every flight fueled at Sea-Tac Airport with 10% sustainable aviation fuels by 2028. That’s about 80 million gallons of clean fuel.

Documentation of the impacts of climate change are no longer relegated to scientific papers for they are ubiquitous — from dramatic shifts in weather resulting in uncharacteristic floods, freezes and wildfires, to increasing ocean acidification and declining populations of orcas and fish on which we all depend.

Port of Seattle Sustainable Aviation Fuel Summit Conference.

While the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and International Maritime Organization (IMO) have taken steps to reduce the carbon emissions of their sectors, the 2015 Paris Accord exempted international maritime and aviation travel from needing specific GHG reduction goals, while domestic aviation emissions were included within each nation’s goals. Before the Paris Accord, industry leaders and the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) signed the Commitment to Action on Climate Change in 2008, which developed environmental goals for the short, medium and long-term to reduce aviation emissions.

Back in August 2016, the EPA made a jeopardy finding regarding the impacts of GHG emissions from airplanes on public health and welfare. But given the current Administration’s reliance on alternative facts and the glacial pace of international accords, juxtaposed with the urgent need to reduce our carbon footprint, it’s critical that we exert our own leadership in this region. The State of Washington is already a leader in the advancement of scientific innovations in aviation, agriculture, and the environment. All of these sectors are now converging in the development of sustainable aviation fuels across Washington state and the region.

The Port of Seattle has a unique role to play if we are going to bring this concept to reality. As a public agency operating Sea-Tac Airport, we have responsibilities to the traveling public, our airline partners and cargo carriers, as well as to the health of our neighboring communities and the broader environment.

The Port also serves as a bridge between the producers and users of aviation fuels. We can exercise the policy leadership that can help to create the market demand for alternative fuel use. Disadvantaged communities are most exposed to pollutants and the impacts from climate change.  This needs to be considered when contemplating the balance with potential impacts on the price of gas.

Today, we have put our money where our mouth is. Our 2019 budget includes a $5-million-line item to help us identify regionally-sourced sustainable feedstocks and to identify ways they can be used cost-competitively at Sea-Tac.

Washington state’s biofuel production companies are selling their products to California, Oregon, and British Columbia, jurisdictions with policies that make the use of sustainable fuels cost-competitive. To address this disparity, we have made the passage of HB 1110 and creating a Low Carbon Fuel Standard with an opt-in provision for aviation fuels a priority of this legislative session.

HB 1110 is an incredible opportunity for Washington to clean our air while creating jobs and rural economic development. This bill is the underpinning for us to get clean fuels into Sea-Tac Airport. A local supply chain of sustainable and clean fuels benefits everyone and it will continue advancing our state’s leadership and innovation for the environment and in aviation.

I appreciate the efforts of all the industry leaders in academia, business, government, and the public who recognize that we are at an urgent time for our environment and it will take all of us working together to make a prosperous clean energy economy. Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks about our state’s progress towards a clean fuel standard and the return of a Washington SAF Summit in 2020.

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Category: Thought Leadership

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