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Delta Air faces lawsuit over carbon-neutral claims

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A consumer class action lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges Delta Air Lines inaccurately billed itself as the world's “first carbon-neutral airline” while relying on carbon offsets that were largely fraudulent.

Companies worldwide purchase carbon credits to offset their carbon emissions through projects that promise to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or prevent potential pollution. However, in recent months, they have been in the limelight with concerns that their environmental benefits are overstated.

Delta spokesperson Grant Myatt described the lawsuit as “without legal merit.”

“Since March 31, 2022, (Delta) has fully transitioned its focus away from carbon offsets toward decarbonization of our operations, focusing our efforts on investing in sustainable aviation fuel,” he said in an email.

Myatt added that the company is updating its fleet with “more fuel-efficient aircraft and implementing operational efficiencies.”

The lawsuit, initiated by Mayanna Berrin from Glendale, California, claims to act on behalf of anyone who flew Delta Air while residing in the state since March 2020.

The lawsuit argues that the advantages derived from the carbon offsets are likely to be temporary and would have occurred even without the airline's investment. For a carbon credit to be deemed valid, it must offer a benefit that would not have occurred otherwise.

The company is a big customer that procures credits from various projects, including wind and solar projects in India, as well as an Indonesian swamp forest, the lawsuit said.

Delta announced a plan to go carbon neutral three years ago, which means releasing no more climate-changing pollution into the air than it absorbs. This can also mean paying to ensure it is absorbed elsewhere.

Mayanna Berrin said that Delta’s claim of carbon neutrality allowed the company to gain a larger market share and charge higher prices. Berrin, about to enter her thirties, emphasized that climate anxiety is prevalent among people of her age.

“I felt comfortable paying more because I was neutralizing when I needed to travel for work or to see my family,” said Berrin. She felt frustrated and regretful when she began having doubts about Delta’s offsets.

“They can’t just claim neutrality if that’s not factually accurate,” she said. “Lawsuits in general are very scary, and there are a lot of people who echo my frustrations who may not know their rights or the impact they can make by speaking up.”

Berrin’s attorney Jonathan Haderlein said this case against Delta Air Lines is believed to be the first of its kind targeting a major American airline, noting that it is one of only a few “greenwashing” cases in the U.S. that are based on consumer protection laws.

Aviation contributed over 2% of global CO2 emissions in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency.

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