GAO Recommends Agencies Track Progress toward Federal Sustainable Aviation Fuel Goals
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) publicly released a report on March 27, 2023, entitled Sustainable Aviation Fuel: Agencies Should Track Progress toward Ambitious Federal Goals. According to GAO, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production and use in the United States have increased in recent years; this fuel is now used by airlines at two major commercial airports in California. GAO states that while U.S. production reached 15.8 million gallons in 2022, it accounted for less than 0.1 percent of the total jet fuel used by major U.S. airlines, “fall[ing] well below the previous Federal Aviation Administration goal for U.S. airlines to use 1 billion gallons of SAF per year by 2018.”
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the aviation sector, the White House announced an SAF Grand Challenge in September 2021. The Grand Challenge goal is to supply three billion gallons of SAF per year by 2030 and 100 percent of expected domestic commercial jet fuel use by 2050. GAO was asked to review the federal role in SAF. GAO’s report discusses the state of SAF production and use for the U.S. commercial aviation industry and factors shaping this market, identifies how federal agencies have supported SAF, and assesses how they will monitor progress toward Grand Challenge goals. According to GAO, the roadmap published by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not establish performance measures to monitor, evaluate, and report the results of these actions. GAO states that without performance measures, the agencies are not well positioned to evaluate the effectiveness of federal government actions to meet the Grand Challenge goals. In contrast, according to GAO, establishing and using such measures can help identify progress on the extent to which SAF is contributing to emission reductions.
GAO recommended that DOT, DOE, and USDA develop and incorporate performance measures into the Grand Challenge roadmap. According to GAO, DOT and USDA concurred. DOE indicated the recommendation is completed and that planned roadmap activities will enable progress to be measured. GAO notes that as discussed in its report, it disagrees that the recommendation is completed.