On November 25, 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a notice inviting applications for nearly $10.5 million in USDA value-added producer grants (VAPG), which help agricultural producers enter into value-added activities related to the processing and/or marketing of biobased value-added products. A copy of the USDA press release on the announcement is available online, and a copy of the Federal Register notice is available online. The funding notice encourages "applications from eligible entities supporting value-added activities related to bio-based products…Bio-based products are defined as commercial or industrial products composed of biological products or renewable domestic agricultural materials or forestry materials, including construction materials, fibers, papers, compost, fertilizer, lubricants, plastics and paint (see online for more information)." Applications are due by February 24, 2014.
Reportedly, the four principals leading the effort to merge the House and Senate versions of the next five-year Farm Bill into a final bill have reached a preliminary agreement on the two major sticking points: food stamps and crop subsidies. The leaders are working feverishly to reach agreement and pass the final version of the Farm Bill by the end of this year when the current Farm Bill expires. Previous Biobased and Renewable Advocacy Group (BRAG™) coverage of the Farm Bill debate and negotiations is available online.
On November 27, 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published in the Federal Register a notice on "Draft Guidelines; Product Environmental Performance Standards and Ecolabels for Voluntary Use in Federal Procurement; Notice of Availability and Request for Comments." A copy of the notice is available online. Comments are due by February 25, 2014.
According to EPA, the Agency intends for the guidelines to "provide a transparent, fair, and consistent approach to using non-governmental product environmental performance standards and ecolabels in Federal purchasing, consistent with Federal standards policy and sustainable acquisition mandates... Voluntary guidelines for standards and ecolabels would help agencies implement sustainable acquisition requirements of Executive Order 13514 and the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 23.103 which requires 95% of the government's applicable contract actions to be sustainable. Specifically, the Guidelines for standards and ecolabels could provide clarity regarding the term 'environmentally preferable' for purposes of the Executive Order. In addition to seeking input on the draft Guidelines themselves, EPA is seeking input on how standards and ecolabels should be assessed for conformance to such guidelines."
On December 4, 2013, EPA published a final rule requiring the electronic submission of certain documents under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). EPA is promulgating amendments to reporting requirements under TSCA Section 4 (including test rules and Enforceable Consent Agreements (ECA)), TSCA Section 5, TSCA Section 8(a) Preliminary Analysis Information Rule (PAIR) at 40 C.F.R. Part 712, and TSCA Section 8(d) Health and Safety Data Reporting Rules at 40 C.F.R. Part 716. A copy of the rule, including a more detailed description of the new reporting requirements, is available online. The rule will become effective on March 4, 2014.
On November 26, 2013, the Obama Administration released its biannual regulatory agenda for all federal agencies. A copy of the agenda is available online. EPA listed several top regulatory priorities, including "taking actions on toxics and chemical safety." The Agency states that it intends to take actions to protect chemical facility safety and security and that it "plans to take a range of identified regulatory actions for certain chemicals and assess other chemicals to determine if risk reduction action is needed to address potential concerns." EPA also lists in the agenda several specific upcoming final regulatory actions it intends to take, including:
• Issuing the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) rule, expected by February 2014; and
• Issuing additional RFS pathways.
EPA has requested a report from the National Academies Committee (the Committee) on options that governments, manufacturers, and retailers can use to compare the safety of various chemicals as they analyze potential substitutes for those chemicals. The report is expected early in 2014. During the initial meeting of the Committee last month, a representative from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported that an OECD committee has identified more than 80 methods for selecting safer chemicals. OECD also intends to release a report identifying them early next year.
On November 29, 2013, EPA published its proposed rule on "2014 Standards for the Renewable Fuel Standard Program" and a "Notice of Receipt of Petitions for a Waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard." Copies of the proposed rule and notice published in the Federal Register are available online, and online. Comments on both are due by January 28, 2014.
BRAG's coverage of the pre-published versions of the proposed rule and notice is available online.
On December 5, 2013, EPA held a public hearing in Arlington, Virginia, on the proposed rule. The Agency heard from more than 140 stakeholders from every side of the RFS debate, including public officials and farmers, as well as company executives and trade associations representing the corn, biofuels, and oil and gas industries. Witness testimony was generally consistent with previous public comments.
For instance, representatives from the oil and gas industry expressed concern that the proposed rule does not go far enough. They argued generally that even with the proposed reductions to all renewable fuel volume obligations (RVO), the E10 blend wall could still be breached, which would force a restriction in gasoline availability and higher prices at the pump for consumers. A representative from the Union of Concerned Scientists pointed out that EPA should place more emphasis on the market potential of E85 as a solution to the blend wall concerns and option to help meet the statutory RFS RVOs. Representatives from the biofuels industry argued that EPA should revise the proposed rule and include higher RVOs more consistent with the RVO targets included in the RFS statute for 2014. They argued these revisions are needed to protect ongoing investment in the further development and commercialization of U.S. biofuels, especially advanced and cellulosic biofuels.
On November 20, 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its intent to release for comment proposed Draft Guidelines for Product Environmental Performance Standards and Ecolabels for Voluntary Use in Federal Procurement (Draft Guidelines). EPA states the Draft Guidelines -- developed by EPA, the General Services Administration (GSA), and other federal agencies following several "listening sessions" with a wide range of stakeholders -- are intended to help federal purchasers identify and select greener products and meet sustainability purchasing goals. Under several federal purchasing mandates, including but not limited to Executive Order 13514 (Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance) and the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 23.103, federal agencies must ensure that 95 percent of their acquisitions and contracts are sustainable, such as by buying environmentally preferable products.
The Draft Guidelines and a pre-publication version of the Federal Register notice announcing the availability of the Draft Guidelines are available online. A 90-day comment period will be set once the Federal Register is published, which is expected in early December 2013.
Our full memorandum, with background and analysis, is available on the BRAG website.
The ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources Pesticides, Chemical Regulation, and Right-to-Know (PCRRTK) Committee Newsletter for November 2013 is a special issue devoted to Green Chemistry. Topics covered include the Federal Trade Commissions's enforcement of the Green Guides, EPA’s Design for the Environment program, Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Reform, and the Green Chemistry Movement, and the role of public disclosure policies in the selection of greener chemistries. The newsletter is available online.
The Society for the Commercial Development of Industrial Biotechnology (SCD-iBIO), an affiliate of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates (SOCMA) and Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG™) strategic partner, held its 2nd International Forum in Philadelphia on November 11, 2013. The focus was "Commercializing Global Green: Markets from the Value Chain Perspective" and the program included symposia on the Automotive, Advanced Biofuels, Cleaning and Personal Care, Packaging, Adhesives, Sealants, and Coatings markets. Marcel Lubben, Vice President of Bio-based Chemicals & Materials of Royal DSM, delivered the keynote speech. In keeping with SCD-iBIO's mission of expanding the understanding of basic principles of commercial development, attendees learned about natural capital and explored the impact of shale gas on the industrial biotechnology industry. SCD-iBIO established a committee on nomenclature and standards in conjunction with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), as well as its own education, planning, and benchmarking committees.
On November 15, 2013, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy signed the long-awaited and much anticipated Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to set the 2014 renewable volume obligations (RVO) under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Included in the NPRM is a proposal to repeal retroactively the 2011 cellulosic RVOs and refund obligated parties nearly $5 million to recover their costs for trying to meet them. Simultaneously, the Agency issued a pre-publication of its request for comment on several petitions it has received from the American Petroleum Institute (API), American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and individual obligated parties requesting that EPA grant a partial waiver of the 2014 RFS statutory RVOs. Copies of the pre-published NPRM and the pre-published request for comment notice are available online.
The NPRM appears to be similar to the draft of it that was leaked publicly last month. It marks a shift in EPA's implementation of the RFS, as it proposes to reduce the overall and advanced RVOs, in addition to the cellulosic RVOs. EPA cites blend wall concerns for the proposed overall and advanced reductions. The Agency proposes to maintain the 2013 RVOs for biodiesel in both 2014 and 2015 at a level of 1.28 billion gallons. The cellulosic, advanced, and total renewable RVO gallons contained in the RFS statute for 2014 are: 1.75 billion for cellulosic, 3.75 billion for advanced, and 18.15 billion for total renewable fuel (the RVO for corn starch ethanol is this number minus those for advanced, cellulosic and biodiesel). The proposed RVO gallons for 2014 are: 17 million for cellulosic, 2.2 billion for advanced, and 15.21 billion for total renewable.
Advocates on both sides have ramped up their advocacy since the release of the NPRM. The oil industry continues to call for full repeal of the RFS through the legislative process and the biofuels industry has denounced EPA's shift in RFS implementation, stressing the importance of the stability of the RFS to continue investment in biofuels, especially advanced and cellulosic biofuels. In addition, new groups have formed to add to the debate. A veterans group, VoteVets.org, and Americans United for Change have plans for a media campaign to support ethanol and the RFS. The Bipartisan Policy Center is forming an advisory committee of biofuels stakeholders to develop proposals for RFS reform. Just before the release of the NPRM, a group of 32 Senators, including Patty Murray (D-WA), Al Franken (D-MN), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), sent a letter to EPA, calling on the Agency to increase the biodiesel RVO for 2014 instead of holding it at this year's levels as was proposed in the leaked draft 2014 RFS proposed rule (and as is maintained in the official NPRM).
A hearing will be held on December 5, 2013, beginning at 9:00 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City located in Arlington, Virginia. A copy of the notice is available online.
This week could determine whether Congress will be able to pass its next five-year Farm Bill by the end of this year. Congress is expected to adjourn for its Thanksgiving recess at the end of this week, and the House of Representatives is expected to adjourn for the year on December 13, 2013. With the little time remaining to conduct official Congressional business this year, two of the four principal Farm Bill conferees working to join the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill into one final piece of legislation, have made public statements stressing the importance of reaching a deal by the end of the week. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) reported that the four principal conferees are working intensely this week to reach agreement on a framework for the final bill. Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK) has reportedly asserted that this is the "deadline" week for conferees to reach agreement on final legislation to provide the House of Representatives time to pass it before the year's end.
While there are some reports that progress is being made to merge the House and Senate versions of crop insurance programs, the most significant difference apparently remains on food stamps. The Senate-passed version contains $4 billion in cuts to the program over ten years, while the House version would cut $40 billion. There is some talk that Congress could look to pass a short term extension of the current Farm Bill if enough progress is not made this week.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced its Commodity Credit Corporation's (CCC) third sale of sugar this year for use as a feedstock for bioenergy production under the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Farm Bill) Feedstock Flexibility Program (FFP). The minimum FFP bid has been increased to 50,000 short tons (100 million pounds) to provide the opportunity for commercial-scale sugar use in bioenergy production. The opportunity to purchase sugar under this sale is available online.
USDA has sold sugar twice this year under the FFP, both times at a loss for the government. The 2008 Farm Bill, which expired on September 30, 2013, directs USDA to keep sugar prices at or above certain levels, and authorizes USDA either to acquire sugar through forfeiture of sugar loans made by USDA's CCC, or to buy sugar and sell it to bioenergy producers until prices rise to those levels. Domestic sugar prices have been falling this year. BRAG's reports on the previous sales are available online.
This week, the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation released its score of S. 795, the Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act, a bi-partisan bill introduced by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) earlier this year. The Committee estimated that the bill would cost $1.3 billion over ten years. Reportedly, Senator Coons welcomed the score and has committed to trying to find an offset or spending cut to pay for it. The Chair of the Senate Finance Committee's Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), has publicly stated her support for the legislation, which helps the bill's chances for passage.
S. 795 would amend the Internal Revenue Code, with respect to the tax treatment of publicly traded partnerships as corporations, to expand the definition of "qualifying income" for such partnerships to include income and gains from renewable and alternative fuels and energy derived from renewable fuels and chemicals, as well as other types of alternative energy. Master Limited Partnerships (MLP) has been used by the fossil fuels industry since the 1980s as a successful way to attract capital and the renewable energy industry hopes to do the same. Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) has introduced a companion bill, H.R. 1696, in the House of Representatives.
On November 19, 2013, EPA's request for comment on its Draft FY 2014-2018 Strategic Plan was published in the Federal Register. In addition, according to the notice, EPA is proposing new FY 2014-2015 Agency Priority Goals. Comments are due by January 3, 2014. A copy of the notice is available online.
As described in the notice, "The Strategic Plan provides the Agency's long-term direction and strategies for advancing human health and the environment." In addition, EPA has made targeted revisions to "[its] existing Plan that seek to advance efforts to address our changing climate, protect our precious water and land resources, and advance chemical safety."