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JetBlue to power some flights with "sustainable" jet fuel

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JetBlue plans to use what it calls sustainably sourced jet fuel on some of its flights and buy carbon offsets to cancel out emissions from its domestic flights.

The discount carrier will offset carbon emissions from its U.S. flights starting in July, it announced Monday. JetBlue will do this by investing in environmental projects including forest conservation; capturing and reusing methane gas emitted from landfills; and developing solar and wind farms in areas that would otherwise rely on fossil fuels for energy.

The airline also said it will power flights departing San Francisco International Airport with a form of jet fuel that emits less carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and other planet-heating gasses than regular fuel. Sustainable fuel from Finnish company Neste, which is created from waste and emits 80% less climate pollution than conventional fossil fuels, will make up part of the fuel for JetBlue's 17 daily flights from San Francisco. They will be the first commercial flights to use sustainable fuel, a spokesperson for JetBlue said.

The airline will not raise ticket prices to pay for these changes, the spokesperson said.

"This is the cost of doing business," she said in an email. "We've always anticipated customer's need and expectations — from TV to leg room. From a business perspective this is similar. The difference is that in addition to answering our customers' needs, it also addresses an urgent societal issue, growing emissions."

Globally, JetBlue emitted about 8.4 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2018, the most recent year for which data are available, according to records submitted to the nonprofit CDP.

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The airline industry has faced criticism in recent years over its contribution to climate change. Commercial flights were responsible for 2.4% of global carbon emissions last year; airplanes also heat the planet through trails left in the sky.

Offsets are intended to let companies or people "balance out" the carbon emissions they create by investing money into carbon-capturing projects elsewhere, such as re-foresting denuded forest areas or capturing gas emitted from landfills.

However, many offset programs have come under criticism for overstating their impact, and studies have shown that much of the clean energy projects funded this way would have received funding anyway. A leading climate-change researcher, Kevin Anderson, has written that "offsetting is worse than doing nothing" because it allows people to continue climate-heating activities without feeling the need to change their behavior.

Other experts say offsetting carbon emissions is effective when done right. "If you're burning any fossil fuels … the only way you offset that is by capturing carbon from the atmosphere and injecting it back into the earth's crust," said Mark Jaccard, a longtime climate policy researcher and author of "The Citizen's Guide to Climate Success."

Although the technology exists to do that, such efforts are expensive, he said, costing between $100 and $200 per metric ton of carbon instead of the $10-per-ton price more typical of offset programs. But Jaccard praised JetBlue's attempt to grapple with its carbon footprint, as well as the company's nod toward more sustainable jet fuel, which he hopes will grow beyond one city.

"We need more airlines talking like this, and that is really nice," he said.

JetBlue follows European discount airline EasyJet, which announced last November that it would offset its carbon emissions. U.K.-based airline Virgin is also moving toward lessening its carbon footprint, powering a transatlantic flight back in 2018 with captured factory emissions.

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