May 17, 2022

Chairs DeFazio, Larsen Statements from Hearing on Mitigating Climate Change at U.S. Airports

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA) during today’s hearing titled, “Preparing for Take-Off: Examining Efforts to Address Climate Change at U.S. Airports.” 

Videos of DeFazio and Larsen’s opening statements are here and here

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chair Larsen, for calling this very important hearing today focused on examining the different infrastructure, technologies, and other initiatives U.S. airports and stakeholders are utilizing to mitigate and prepare for the effects of climate change.

According to the World Health Organization, climate change is the “single biggest health threat facing humanity.” In the decades ahead, the futures of our children and our grandchildren will directly depend on what we do today. But we shouldn’t wait to act until we experience even more disastrous effects of climate change. 

Whether it’s the increasing nature of 100-year storms or the massive wildfires and blistering heat waves that plagued my home state of Oregon last year, climate change is here and continues to present a growing threat to millions of Americans each and every day. That’s why it is vital we do everything in our power to mitigate and prepare for it. But we are running out of time. 

Since signing the Paris climate agreement in 2015, the global community has focused on one climate goal: limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid the most severe effects of climate change. But as greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, a recent report from the World Meteorological Organization shows there is a 50 percent chance global temperatures could temporarily hit this critical threshold within the next five years. 

The same report alleged that this probability is only increasing with time. For instance, in 2015, the chance of temporarily crossing that same threshold was zero, thus highlighting the frenetic pace of human-caused climate change. 

Unfortunately, the aviation industry’s contribution to climate change has grown in recent years. While aviation currently only accounts for nine percent of transportation emissions and three percent of total emissions in the United States, aviation emissions have grown by 22 percent over the last decade, quickly becoming one of the fastest growing sources of emissions in the transportation sector. If left unaddressed, carbon emissions are on track to potentially triple by 2050, accounting for a quarter of all carbon emissions. 

To be clear, much is being done in this space. As we will hear from the witnesses today, there have been record investments in sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), hydrogen fuel sources, and other innovative technologies that aim to reduce or even eliminate the aviation industry’s growing carbon emissions. 

Moreover, the FAA has a range of programs designed to help airports, airlines, and other aviation stakeholders address climate change. This includes the Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) and Zero Emission Vehicle and Infrastructure Pilot programs, which help airports purchase low and zero emission vehicles, infrastructure, and other equipment to lower their carbon footprint and become more environmentally sustainable. 

It also includes important research programs, such as the Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions, and Noise (CLEEN) program, which fosters partnerships with the private sector to conduct critical research on SAF, aircraft engine technologies, and other aviation environmental matters. 

But we need to do more! 

That’s why last Congress I included a number of provisions in H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, specifically aimed at addressing climate change in aviation. This included the creation of a dedicated funding program for airport environmental projects, making airport resiliency projects eligible for AIP funding, expanding the VALE program to all commercial airports—not just those in non-attainment areas—and the development of the first-ever grant program for SAF infrastructure projects and other low emission aviation technologies. 

While these provisions were not ultimately included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), I am hopeful that my colleagues consider these proposals—many of which are supported by the witnesses before us today—for inclusion in the next FAA reauthorization bill. I am also eager to learn how airports are using the record amount of IIJA funding they are set to receive to bolster their existing efforts to address climate change. 

When it comes to climate change, the consequences of inaction cannot be overstated. More severe and frequent storms, flooding, extreme heat, wildfires, droughts, and other environmental disasters will have profound effects on every aspect of human life. But it is my hope that the testimony we hear today will provide the committee and the aviation industry with real solutions to help tackle the climate crisis and provide a healthier, more sustainable future for generations to come. 

I look forward to hearing from the witnesses on this important issue. I yield back. 
Chair Larsen:

Good afternoon and welcome to today’s Aviation Subcommittee hearing titled “Preparing for Take-Off: Examining Efforts to Address Climate Change at U.S. Airports.”

As Chair of this Subcommittee, I am focused on continuing the movement to a cleaner and greener air transportation system.

Aviation and aerospace are responsible for as much as 9 percent of carbon emissions in U.S. transportation and close to three percent of total emissions globally.

Aviation emissions directly impact communities adjacent to the nation’s airports, causing poor air quality, increased health risks and reduced property values. 

A 2019 study by the University of Washington found that communities underneath and downwind of aircraft landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are exposed to a specific ultrafine particle pollution that is distinctly associated with aircraft. 

The study also found that affected communities are as far as 10 miles away from the airport itself.

In response to global aviation emissions projections, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its first Aviation Climate Action Plan in November 2021.

The FAA’s plan calls for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. aviation sector by 2050 by implementing specific sustainability and environmental measures.

Some of these measures already exist. For example, FAA’s NextGen procedures such as Performance-Based Navigation are already helping to reduce aircraft fuel burn and create more efficient flight routes.

Development of the Climate Action Plan’s proposed tools will need the support of Congress.

These tools include:

Production and distribution of cleaner fuels, such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF);

Use of alternative propulsion systems like electrification and hydrogen-powered aircraft; and

Adoption of international initiatives like ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, also known as CORSIA.

Regarding SAF, I am working with Rep. Nikema Williams on a discussion draft of legislation that would build off language in Build Back Better and provide federal funding for SAF producers to build or scale up facilities and infrastructure for the production, storage and distribution of SAF.

This discussion draft has input from the FAA and an array of other aviation stakeholders, and I welcome input from my Subcommittee colleagues to help advance SAF as an emissions reduction tool.

As Congress prepares for the next FAA reauthorization bill, this Subcommittee must evaluate existing programs and policies aimed at reducing emissions from U.S. airports, while also looking forward to develop new tools to reduce the carbon footprint of the aviation sector.

As airport emissions have come into sharper focus, airports themselves have taken steps to reduce those emissions.

The Airports Council International (ACI) has adopted decarbonization and resiliency measures such as airport energy efficiency standards, the use of low and zero emission transportation and ground support vehicles, climate risk assessments, and flood mitigation projects, among others.

The federal government also supports various initiatives to help foster emission reduction technologies and strategies.

The FAA’s Voluntary Airport Low Emission (VALE) program allows airports to use federal dollars to finance low emission vehicles and related infrastructure, electric gate and gate equipment and other airport quality improvements. 

FAA’s Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise (CLEEN) program helps accelerate the development of new aircraft and engine technologies, as well as alternative jet fuels for use in civil aviation.

U.S. airports are also able to use Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds for energy reduction measures, sustainability planning and the purchase of zero emission vehicles and related infrastructure. 

Emerging aviation technologies, such as alternative fuels and aircraft propulsion systems, can also help to reduce emissions at U.S. airports.

While several airports and airlines are working to expand the use of SAF, there are significant barriers to its widespread adoption.

High production costs have led to lower availability and higher prices, rendering SAF difficult to access for many carriers and airports.

Another potential solution is the development of full or hybrid electric aircraft, which operate using electric batteries for power. 

Several airlines and advanced air mobility (AAM) companies are developing electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, or eVTOLs, for potential use for short-range flights.

The full Committee recently approved my bipartisan Advanced Aviation Infrastructure Modernization (AAIM) Act to help airports and local communities plan for these new aircraft. 

Finally, hydrogen is another option that may be a long-term solution to help decarbonize the aviation sector. 

Hydrogen-powered aircraft emit water instead of carbon dioxide, leading to substantially reduced air pollutants.

Yet, there are still problems to solve with this technology, particularly around storage and transport of hydrogen to fuel aircraft. 

Today’s witnesses can speak to ongoing efforts aimed at reducing aviation emissions, as well as needs for future reduction tools.

I would like to welcome our various airport representatives from the Allegheny County Airport Authority, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Port of Portland, who will discuss their strategies for mitigating the impacts of climate change. 

I also look forward to hearing from SkyNRG Americas on where SAF stands in the current market and what steps Congress should take to facilitate its adoption.

U.S. airlines must be proactive in developing strategies to reduce the carbon emissions from the industry. 

I am pleased to have Alaska Airlines join us to discuss its efforts to reduce emissions and how other airlines could achieve similar results.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) is here today to discuss the advances in aviation manufacturing that can lead to reduced emissions.

Finally, emerging fuel sources, like hydrogen, present long-term options to help decarbonize the aviation industry in the future. 

I am pleased to welcome ZeroAvia, which is building a major research and development facility at Paine Field in my district, to testify on their efforts to bring hydrogen powered aircraft into the mainstream.

I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses on where current efforts stand and potential next steps to address these issues.

While Congress, the Administration, and industry are working to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change at U.S. airports, there is more work to be done. 

Thank you, and I look forward to today’s discussion.