Update: (Still) Hoping for Some Friendlier Skies from the Windy City.

by Susan Frank, Director, California Business Alliance for a Green Economy

I wrote this blog below on August 12 and, the next day, met with two key executives from United Airlines: Jimmy Samartzis, Managing Director for Global Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, and Martin Hand, Senior Vice President, Customer Experience. The meeting was a mixed bag in terms of outcomes, and I can share more about that later, but I wanted to provide one highlight from the meeting. Mr. Samartzis indicated to the group assembled that United was taking a “step back” and “re-evaluating its membership” in Fueling California, an organization focused on derailing the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). I hope you will join me in keeping the pressure on United and ask the company to withdraw from Fueling California. Given the LCFS doesn’t even regulate airline fuels, it’s difficult to see why United would want to be aligned with Fueling California in the first place.

Hoping for Some Friendlier Skies from the Windy City

I was invited to Chicago this week to meet with United Airlines executives who, as a result of recent attention focused on the company’s opposition to state, national and international climate change policies, offered to discuss their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

As of the publication of this blog, I am en route to Chicago and look forward to joining several “Elite” United frequent flyers in making the case that the airline needs to change its ways. I will report back as to whether we had a conversation that results in a change of position for United or more of the same rhetoric we have seen here in California.united get on board climate

One of the issues I plan to raise at the meeting is asking United executives why the company is a leading member of Fueling California, a California political organization focused on dismantling the state’s clean fuel standard (known as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, or LCFS). The LCFS is a critical component of the state’s landmark clean energy and climate law, AB 32.

Fueling California is led by President and CEO Bob Sturtz, who joined the board when he was United’s Managing Director of Strategic Sourcing. Serving alongside Sturtz on the Board of Directors is Melinda Yee Franklin, Director of Corporate and Government Affairs for United’s western region.

It’s particularly odd to see past and current United executives leading a group that is opposed to the LCFS when that standard doesn’t regulate airline fuels – not to mention that Fueling California’s primary source of funding comes from the oil giant, Chevron. It’s a partnership that definitely needs to be explained to the general public in addition to United Airlines frequent flyers who care about climate change impacts.

United even recently committed to a small purchase of biofuel for their planes flying out of Los Angeles and yet they are doing everything possible to prevent California consumers from having the same options they say they embrace for their planes.

Aviation’s global carbon footprint is large and growing rapidly. The sector would be the 7th largest emitter of GHGs in the world if it were a country. With more people flying every year, airplane pollution is expected to double by 2020 and quadruple by 2050 without control measures being put in place. Unfortunately, United Airlines continues to lead the U.S. aviation industry in opposing multiple efforts to curb GHG emissions, at home and abroad.

California philanthropist and Proposition 39 author, Tom Steyer, along with other elite frequent flyers, recently released a letter urging the company to take a stand on climate change.

The California Business Alliance for a Green Economy joins with Tom Steyer and business leaders from across the state in calling on United to start flying straight when it comes to support for clean energy policies in California, nationally and internationally.

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