There have been several efforts in the last few weeks to convince the Obama Administration to reconsider its proposal to reduce the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) statutory renewable volume obligations (RVO) for advanced and total renewable (corn ethanol) biofuels, and to maintain in 2014 and 2015 the status quo for biodiesel. Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) are expected to introduce a bill in the coming weeks, which would amend the RFS and reduce its corn ethanol targets.
On December 18, a group of 16 Senators met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to urge EPA to maintain the statutory 2014 RFS RVOs for advanced and total renewable fuels. They argued that the proposed reductions are unnecessary given expected production and that they would harm their respective state economies and the energy diversity and security of the United States. On the same day, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), who had attended the meeting, sent a letter to Administrator McCarthy expressing her concerns about EPA's RFS proposed rule. A copy of the letter is available online.
Also on December 18, 2013, 54 Members of the House of Representatives from 24 states sent a letter to the leaders of the EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Office of Management and Budget urging that the RFS final rule increase the required volumes of biodiesel. A copy of the letter is available online.
On December 20, 2013, the Governors of six Midwestern states sent a letter to President Obama expressing their concerns about the RFS proposed rule. They also urged the Administration to maintain the statutory RFS RVOs for total renewable fuel and raise the biodiesel requirements for 2014 and 2015. A copy of the letter is available online.
LignoTech Developments Ltd. subsidiary Xylemer BioProducts of New Zealand will soon open a new facility in Kearney, Nebraska. The facility will produce biomass-based resins. Distillers grains will be the first feedstocks used, likely followed by sugar beet pulp and rice hulls.
On December 19, 2013, Cortec Corporation headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, announced its Patent Pending BioPad® product. The company states that BioPad® "is a unique flexible corrosion inhibiting device constructed from 100% biobased non-woven material, containing 66% biobased content. BioPad® provides an eco-friendly sustainable packaging option for corrosion inhibition and has been awarded USDA BioPreferredSM designation. It is specially designed with Vapor phase Corrosion Inhibitors (VpCI®) impregnated throughout the substrate." A copy of Cortec's press release is available online.
On December 31, 2013, Ironridge Global Partners, LLC, an institutional investor based in Los Angeles, California, announced that it has launched a green initiative designed to fund sustainable businesses, including emerging growth companies focused on environmental sustainability and environmentally-friendly products and services. As part of the initiative, Ironridge has provided over $6 million to Cereplast, Inc., a leading manufacturer of proprietary biobased, compostable and sustainable bioplastics, and its creditors. A copy of the press release is available online.
On December 23, 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it was ending its funding of BlueFire Renewable's cellulosic production facility project in Fulton, Mississippi. DOE took this action because the company reportedly failed to meet deadlines related to financing the project. This news comes as the cellulosic industry continues to be under attack for failing to live up to expectations under the federal RFS.
Just before adjourning for its winter recess, the U.S. House of Representatives approved on December 13, 2013, by voice vote an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill through January 31, 2014. The vote is considered symbolic because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has asserted that the Senate will not consider an extension. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Representative Colin Peterson (D-MN), two of the principals leading Farm Bill negotiations, have reportedly stated that an extension is unnecessary since they expect to prepare in final a framework for the next Farm Bill to be passed by Congress before the end of January. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be required, absent a new Farm Bill, to set up a supply-side management program after December 31, 2013, it is expected that Congress will pass a new five-year Farm Bill by the end of January 2014, when such a program would effectively be up and running.
It has been reported that the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Power Chair John Shimkus (R-IL) has listed reform of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) among his top priorities for 2014. Chair Shimkus has stated publicly that the House is still determining how best to draft and move TSCA reform legislation, but he expects a House TSCA reform bill to be introduced by the spring, with action on it likely next summer.
Chair Shimkus reportedly has also indicated that he expects no action on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in the House before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgates its 2014 RFS rule. The oil and gas industry has been advocating for legislative action to repeal the RFS in spite of EPA's proposed 2014 RFS rule that would reduce required volume obligations for cellulosic biofuels, as well as advanced biofuels and corn ethanol. The biofuels industry has argued that no legislative action is needed given EPA's regulatory flexibility to modify gallon requirements as needed under the law.
On December 12, 2013, Representative Scott Peters (D-CA), Chair of the House Algae Caucus, introduced H.R. 3758, a bill to extend the $1.01/gallon second generation biofuel producer credit and the special allowance for second generation biofuel plant property. These incentives are among several currently set to expire at the end of the year.
Members of the House and Senate have sent letters to the Chairs and Ranking Members of their respective tax writing Committees -- the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee -- urging the extension of ten clean energy incentives as soon as possible. Biofuels and biodiesel incentives are among those identified in the letter as important to extend until any broader tax reform legislation is passed.
The House is currently out on its winter break and will not return until January. There are promising signs that the House and Senate will work to pass retroactive extensions of incentives for the biofuels industry when they resume legislative business early next year.
Currently, there are two nearly identical proposals before Congress to provide a business related tax credit for the production of renewable chemicals. S. 1267, the Qualifying Renewable Chemical Tax Production Act of 2013, was introduced on June 27, 2013, by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). The bill has one co-sponsor, Senator Al Franken (D-MN). H.R. 3084, a bill by the same name, was introduced on September 12, 2013. It currently has five bi-partisan co-sponsors, including Representatives Richard Neal (D-MA), Scott Peters (D-CA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), and Steve Stockman (R-TX). A copy of S. 1267 is available online. A copy of H.R. 3084 is available online.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R), Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, and State Secretary of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Bill Northey led an effort to send a letter to EPA requesting it to convene a field hearing in Iowa on the Agency's proposed 2014 RFS rule. The letter was signed by the entire Congressional delegation from Iowa. A copy of the letter is available online.
EPA's proposed 2014 RFS rule would reduce the 2014 statutory gallon requirements for cellulosic biofuels, advanced biofuels, and corn ethanol. Governor Branstad testified at EPA's recent hearing in Arlington, Virginia, on the proposed rule that it would have detrimental effects on the biofuels industry and rural economy in his state and other Midwestern states. The Iowa delegation expresses in the letter the same concern, and argues that EPA should hold a field hearing in Iowa to hear from Midwestern farmers and producers who could not attend the Virginia hearing and who would be disproportionally impacted by the proposed reductions.
On December 12, 2013, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2013, which would eliminate the corn ethanol gallon requirements under the federal RFS, while leaving in place those under the law for cellulosic and advanced biofuels and biodiesel. The sponsors have argued that the RFS corn ethanol mandate, which increases to 15 billion gallons per year by 2022, should be removed to combat the recent increase in corn prices. The bill currently has eight bi-partisan co-sponsors, including Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jim Risch (R-ID), and Patrick Toomey (R-PA).
The corn ethanol industry has argued that the RFS has had negligible impact on corn supply and prices, and that recent increases in the price of corn are attributed to the corresponding increase in the cost of energy used to make and transport the commodity.
EPA has awarded Dow a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for its EVOQUETM Pre-Composite Polymer. Among other attributes, according to EPA, EVOQUETM is expected to improve titanium dioxide (TiO2)-based paints. "Dow's EVOQUETM technology uses a polymer coating that, when applied to TiO2, improves dispersion of the pigment, decreasing the amount of the chemical needed and allowing it to work better. This technology will significantly reduce energy usage, water consumption, NOx and SOx emissions, and algae bloom." More information is available online and here.
On December 11, 2013, EPA gave a Green Chemistry award to Professor Richard Wool of the University of Delaware for his work to develop biobased products such as adhesives, composites, and foams from renewable feedstocks, including vegetable oils, chicken feathers, and flax. The EPA grants Green Chemistry Awards each year to recognize "landmark green chemistry technologies developed by industrial pioneers and leading scientists that are contributing to the use of chemicals and products that are safer for people's health and the environment." More information on the 2013 Green Chemistry Awards is available online.
Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK), Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture, filed a bill this week to extend for one month, the 2008 Farm Bill to pave way for the completion of the five-year reauthorization bill when Congress returns from its winter break in January. The House of Representatives is scheduled to recess this Friday, on December 13, 2013, while the U.S. Senate is not scheduled to recess until next Friday, December 20, 2013.
Members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee, led by the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees (the four principals), have been working to merge the House and Senate passed versions of the legislation and settle on a final bill for enactment by the end of the year. Key sticking points remain on the level of cuts to the food stamp program and the implementation of farm subsidies. In addition, representatives of the biofuels and renewable chemical industries are also advocating strongly that the final bill should include the Senate version of the energy title, which would provide $900 million in mandatory funding for Farm Bill energy programs, and extend eligibility to renewable chemical producers.
If Congress fails to pass either an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill or a new five-year Farm Bill by January, an antiquated supply-side 1949 law will kick in, driving up milk prices among other things. That law includes no support for renewable energy programs. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, have both publicly denounced any short term extension and any plans of the House of Representatives to recess for the year before completing the next Farm Bill. Reportedly, Majority Leader Reid has stated that he will not bring any short term extension up for a vote. The staffs of the four principals were meeting on Thursday, December 12, 2013, to complete as much of the framework for the next Farm Bill as possible to reduce the need for a short term extension and increase the likelihood a final bill could pass shortly after Congress returns to work after the first week of January.
It has been reported this week that the new Director of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Loan Program Office has stated DOE's intent to restart its renewable energy loan guarantee program in 2014. DOE is expected to issue a new round of $3 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy projects. Although DOE still has billions in loan guarantee authority for renewable energy, it halted the program a couple of years ago in the wake of heavy criticism following the failure of Solyndra, a solar company that went bankrupt after receiving a DOE loan guarantee.