On Wednesday, November 13, 2013, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy testified as the sole witness before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on "Strengthening Transparency and Accountability within the Environmental Protection Agency."
While the hearing was held as part of the Committee's annual oversight of EPA, it provided Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) an opportunity to question McCarthy on several concerns he reportedly had with EPA and appropriate transparency at the Agency. These included reports of EPA officials' use of outside e-mail addresses to conduct business, and questions following EPA's "insufficient" response to a subpoena last summer requesting information about the Agency's confidential health studies that form the basis for EPA regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Assessments of EPA's performance during the hearing fell along party lines. Committee Democrats led by Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) have publicly criticized Chair Smith for his criticisms of the Agency.
Administrator McCarthy's nomination was held up for several months due to concerns by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Ranking Member David Vitter (D-LA) over sufficient transparency at EPA. It was allowed to go through after Administrator McCarthy pledged to bolster transparency at EPA under her leadership.
On Thursday, November 14, 2013, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Energy and Power, chaired by Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY), held a hearing to discuss EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas standards for new power plants and draft legislation authored by Chairman Whitfield and Senator Joe Manchin. The hearing included three panels of ten witnesses, including Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and EPA Acting Administrator for Air and Radiation Janet McCabe, to discuss a potential legislative proposal by Subcommittee Chair Whitfield and Senator Manchin that would effectively prohibit EPA from promulgating or enforcing its recently released proposed rule to regulate GHG emissions from new power plants and make regulation of GHGs from existing plants contingent on Congressional approval.
Several states and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, support the Whitfield-Manchin proposal. Information on the hearing, including a list of witnesses and the draft legislation, may be found online.
This week, the Associated Press published an article titled "The Secret, Dirty Cost of Obama's Green Power Push," which has drawn strong criticism from U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and several trade groups representing farmers and the ethanol industry, including the National Farmer's Union (NFU), Growth Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, and the Advanced Ethanol Council.
In the article, the AP links increased ethanol production since the enhanced Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was signed into law in 2007 to reduce acres of land under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). It features interviews with Iowa farmers, including one who claims his words were misconstrued. It is reported that NFU President Roger Johnson points out that the story "neglects to mention…that Congress reduced CRP by roughly seven million acres in the 2008 Farm Bill and is poised to be reduced by seven to eight million acres in the next farm bill." Also, Secretary Vilsack has made public statements calling the story "unfortunate" and pointing out that there are additional conservation programs beyond the CRP.
On November 8, 2013, Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA) sent a letter to President Obama stating that he is "angered and frustrated" that EPA is considering reducing renewable volume obligations (RVO) as part of its current rulemaking process to set the 2014 RVOs under the federal RFS. He further urges President Obama and his Administration to reconsider such reductions and points out that reductions like those contained in a recently leaked draft of the 2014 RFS proposed rule would harm economies throughout the Midwest and would damage the country's biofuel infrastructure. The sentiments in the letter are similar to ones expressed recently by many representing the biofuels industry.
The oil industry generally has urged EPA to make the kind of reductions to the 2014 RVOs as contained in the leaked draft proposed rule.
On Thursday, November 7, 2013, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released the Alternative Fueling Station Locator App for iPhone or iPad that provides up-to-date information to potential consumers on the closest fueling stations that offer various alternative fuels, including biodiesel (B20), compressed and liquefied natural gas, and ethanol (E85), among others. More information, including a link to the App, may be found on DOE's website.
This new App is a significant new tool in the effort to increase the amount of renewable fuels developed, distributed, and used in the United States.
On November 12, 2013, 17 "green groups," including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and the League of Conservation Voters, sent a letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance urging the extension of several tax incentives designed to promote investment in the development of clean energy. For instance, the letter urges the extension of the 48C Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit, which provides an investment tax credit of up to 30 percent of qualified investment in a qualifying advanced energy project, which is defined to be a project that establishes, expands, or re-equips a manufacturing facility for the production of certain types of property, including property designed to refine or blend renewable fuels or to produce energy conservation technologies.
Several tax incentives designed to help encourage renewable energy production are set to expire at the end of the year.
On November 8, 2013, Heather Zichal, a longtime Obama Administration official and President Obama's top energy and environment advisor since 2011, left her position to pursue other opportunities. Zichal's next steps are not publicly known.
Zichal, a former Capitol Hill staffer, was an important supporter within the Administration of policies, including the RFS, designed to support the development and commercialization of biofuels and renewable chemicals. She will be replaced by her former deputy, Dan Utech, who is also a former Capitol Hill staffer. Utech will continue Zichal's work, including seeing the President's Climate Action Plan move forward.
Dyadic International, Inc. (Dyadic) has been issued a U.S. patent covering, among other things, methods of developing and producing novel enzymes, encoding nucleic acid molecules for those enzymes, and methods to convert lignocellulosic biomass into fermentable sugars with enzymes that degrade the lignocellulosic material and novel combinations of enzymes, including those that provide a synergistic release of sugars from plant biomass. Dyadic is a global biotechnology company focused on the discovery, development, manufacture, and sale of enzymes and other proteins for the bioenergy, biobased chemical, biopharmaceutical, and industrial enzyme industries. A copy of the company's press release announcing the new patent may be found online.
On November 7, 2013, cellulosic biofuels producer KiOR, Inc. (KiOR) released its third quarter results. The company reported that its Columbus facility began a run in September, and is now producing cellulosic biofuels steadily and at record rates. This is significant news in the biofuels industry, as KiOR is one of the leading companies expected to contribute to the cellulosic volume availability under the RFS in 2013. A copy of the company's press release may be found online.
On October 30, 2013, Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Peter Welch (R-VT), and Steve Womack (R-AR) sent a letter signed by 169 Members of Congress to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy urging EPA to use its authority to reduce the 2014 statutory renewable volume obligations (RVO) for all types of biofuels, including conventional corn starch ethanol under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). A copy of the letter is available online.
The arguments made in the letter echo those put forth by the oil and gas industry and assert that the 2014 RVO reductions are needed to protect against corn price volatility and the E10 ethanol blend wall.
The letter comes at a crucial time in RFS advocacy. The oil and gas industry is leading the effort to repeal or weaken the RFS through regulatory, legal, and legislative channels, while the biofuels industry is fighting to maintain the policy, arguing that it is the fundamental driver of investment in the industry and that it provides EPA sufficient regulatory flexibility to make all necessary adjustments in its implementation. Further, the biofuels industry notes that no reductions in the conventional RVOs are needed as the RFS has minimal impact on corn prices and there are sufficient mechanisms for 2014 compliance. In addition, many in the biofuels industry argue that the concerns about the E10 blend wall are misplaced, as it exists because the oil and gas industry has refused to make or encourage the necessary investments to enable additional ethanol to be blended into the fuel supply.
A copy of Growth Energy's press release and the Renewable Fuels Association's (RFA) statement on the letter are available online and online.
On November 1, 2013, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), Growth Energy, and RFA filed a motion to intervene on behalf of EPA in the current lawsuit by Monroe Energy, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) challenging EPA's final rule establishing the 2013 RVOs under the federal RFS. The filing was made in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where the case is pending. Copies of press releases issued by BIO, Growth Energy, and RFA are available online.
In the past week, three significant letters have been sent to conferees charged with preparing in final the next five-year Farm Bill urging them to include an Energy Title that supports biofuel and renewable chemical development and production.
On November 1, 2013, 30 bi-partisan Members of Congress sent a letter to the leaders of the House Committee on Agriculture and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry urging Farm Bill conferees to include and make necessary investments in an Energy Title. The letter stresses the importance of this support for renewable energy to the nation and its rural economies. In particular, the letter urges continued support for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Biorefinery Assistance Program (BAP), and Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). A copy of the letter is available online.
On November 4, 2013, 14 bi-partisan Senators sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee urging Farm Bill conferees to include an Energy Title as passed by the Senate earlier this year, which would include $900 million in mandatory funding and support for biofuels and expanded support for renewable chemicals. In particular, the letter stresses the importance of the REAP, BAP, and BCAP programs, as well as the Biobased Markets Program. A copy of the letter is available online.
Also, on November 4, 2013, over 130 organizations signed a letter sent to the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees similar to the one sent by the 14 Senators described above. A copy of the letter is available online.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released an advice memorandum from the agency's Office of Chief Counsel determining that "y electing the § 6426(c) excise tax credit [biodiesel mixture credit] and/or the § 6427(e) excise tax payment instead of the § 40A income tax credit, a blender is not required by § 87 or by § 61 to include in its gross income the amount of the § 6426(c) excise tax credits and/or the § 6427(e) payments that it claims." A copy of the memorandum is available online.
On October 31, 2013, NatureWorks issued a press release announcing that it "now offers three new Ingeo high performance biopolymer grades designed for injection molding and extrusion applications. They will allow formulations comparable in performance to engineering thermoplastics at a cost lower than any previous high-biobased content polymers on the market." A copy of the press release is available online.
On November 4, 2013, it was reported that Johor Biotechnology and Biodiversity Corporation (J-BioTech) recently signed a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Malaysian Biotechnology Corp Sdn Bhd (BiotechCorp) to develop a biobased industry in Johor.