On August 26, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted a petition by several industry groups, including the American Forest & Paper Association and the National Alliance of Forest Owners, for an extension to file an appeal to the court's recent decision to vacate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) rule temporarily exempting biogenic sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new GHG permitting requirements. For more information on the decision issued in July, please visit online. Groups will now have until 30 days after the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether it will consider several lawsuits challenging EPA's GHG regulations to appeal this biogenic carbon decision.
Despite the August Congressional Recess, much regulatory and legislative action continues in Washington, D.C. on the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Earlier this month, the leading trade groups representing the oil and gas industry, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), petitioned EPA to lower the 2014 RFS renewable volume obligations (RVO) to below 10 percent of total U.S. gasoline supply. Under the RFS, EPA is directed to set the following year's RVOs by November 30. API and AFPM argue that waiving the RVOs for 2014 to 9.7 percent of the U.S. gasoline supply is necessary so their members may fulfill their volume obligations under the RFS without exceeding the 10 percent ethanol "blend wall."
The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), one of the leading biofuels trade associations, has already responded to the API/AFPM waiver petition by sending a letter to EPA urging the Agency to deny the waiver request for several reasons. A copy of the letter is available online. Among other things, RFA argues that API and AFPM lack standing to petition EPA to reduce the 2014 RVOs since the associations themselves are not obligated to comply with the RFS. In addition, RFA argues that there are several ways that obligated parties in the oil and gas industry may meet their 2014 RFS RVOs, including an increase in E15 and E85 sales, and carry over Renewable Identification Numbers (RIN) from 2013.
Earlier this month, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice requesting that they investigate allegations that certain petroleum companies are deliberately blocking the introduction of higher ethanol blends in violation of antitrust laws. A copy of the letter is available online.
As we have reported, a group of four Republican Members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee are working during the August recess on developing potential legislative reforms to the federal RFS. It has been reported this week that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is considering potentially attaching an RFS legislative reform package to a "must-pass" bill similar to the one expected this fall to address the "debt ceiling."
EPA was scheduled to post a video on its YouTube channel providing an overview of the Agency's plans to regulate GHG emissions from existing power plants. Under President Obama's Climate Action Plan (CAP) announced on June 25, 2013, EPA is directed to propose emissions guidelines for existing power plants by June 1, 2014. EPA's YouTube page is available online.
U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power Chair Ed Whitfield (R-KY) has announced that he will hold a hearing on the President's CAP on September 18, 2013. Chair Whitfield, who does not support the CAP, has invited representatives from 13 federal agencies, including EPA, to testify at the hearing. The Subcommittee's press release (available online) states that "we seek to hear from relevant Federal agencies about U.S. climate change policies and the administration's second term climate agenda, and to obtain fuller information regarding the Federal government's past, current, and planned domestic and international activities, climate research programs, initiatives, and new regulatory requirements."
Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz has announced the selection of 19 individuals to serve on the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB). The press release on the announcement is available online.
The SEAB will meet at least four times a year and will be broken into four subcommittees to focus on science, energy, nuclear security, and environmental stewardship. The group may also serve to provide advice to Secretary Moniz on an ad hoc basis to address specific issues. The 19 members of the SEAB are:
Frances Beinecke: President, Natural Resources Defense Council
Rafael Bras: Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology
Albert Carnesale: Chancellor Emeritus and Professor, University of California, Los Angeles
John Deutch (CO-CHAIR): MIT Chemist and Former Under Secretary of Energy
Persis Drell (CO-CHAIR): Professor of Physics, Stanford University and Former Director, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Shirley Ann Jackson: President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Deborah Jin: Physicist, National Institute of Standards and Technology and Professor Adjoint for Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder
Paul Joskow: President, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and MIT Professor of Economics, Emeritus
Steve Koonin: Director, Center for Urban Science and Progress, New York University and Former Under Secretary for Science
Michael McQuade: Senior Vice President for Science and Technology, United Technologies Corporation
Richard Meserve: President, Carnegie Institution for Science and Former Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Cherry Murray: Dean, Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
John Podesta: Chair, Center for American Progress and Former White House Chief of Staff
Dan Reicher: Executive Director, Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, Professor, Stanford University and Former Assistant Secretary for Energy
Carmichael Roberts: General Partner, North Bridge Venture Partners
Martha Schlicher: Renewables and Sustainability Technology Lead, Monsanto Company
Brent Scowcroft: Retired U.S. Lieutenant General, Former National Security Advisor and President and Founder, Scowcroft Group
Ram Shenoy: Chief Technology Officer, ConocoPhillips
Daniel Yergin: Vice Chairman, IHS and Founder of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates
On August 26, 2013, bio-isobutanol producer, Gevo, Inc., supported by Coca-Cola and Japanese chemical producer Toray Industries, Inc., held a ribbon cutting ceremony to open its new demonstration-scale paraxylene plant adjacent to Gevo's existing renewable jet fuel plant in Silsbee, Texas. Paraxylene is a key building block to renewable PET beverage bottles and packaging, among other things. Gevo's press release announcing this new facility is available online.
Renewable chemicals are emerging at a fast pace, paving the way for new, innovative, and sustainable biobased products. The renewable chemicals’ market is estimated to reach $83.4 billion by 2018 in applications ranging from transportation and agriculture to textiles and cosmetics. In addition to all the elements great companies need to succeed -- a great product, a great brand, inspiring leadership, and vision -- biobased product companies need to understand how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) occupies a virtual seat at their management table, whether or not they know it.
An article by BRAG in the August 2013 issue of Industrial Biotechnology, available online, lays out the regulatory challenges the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) presents to biobased and renewable chemical products and the rationale behind the formation of BRAG. Through strategic insight into regulatory and legislative issues, collective advocacy on Capitol Hill and before EPA, education and training opportunities, and hands-on guidance from a deep bench of TSCA legal and scientific policy experts, BRAG is removing obstacles to commercialization for its members.
While in Brazil last week, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz stressed the importance of biofuels as part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To this end, Secretary Moniz called for greater partnership between the U.S. and Brazil on biofuels. Significantly, it was reported that Secretary Moniz stated that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority and ability, and will continue to consider imports when EPA sets the annual renewable volume obligations (RVO) under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). This statement is important and signifies that EPA could continue to allow imported Brazilian sugarcane ethanol to meet annual RFS requirements.
As we recently reported, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Export Green Initiative continues plans for an upcoming trip to Brazil September 30-October 2, 2013, to encourage an increased relationship between that country and the U.S. on biofuels. Representatives from the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), the trade association representing the Brazilian sugarcane industry (UNICA), and the Advanced Biofuels Association, along with 15 companies that produce biofuels in the U.S., are expected to attend the trip. More information is available online.
As we have reported, EPA has released its final rule setting the RVOs for the federal RFS (more information is available online). The final rule was officially published, and therefore became effective, on August 15, 2013. A copy of the final rule, as published in the Federal Register, is available online.
Last week, a professor from Purdue University, Wallace Tyner, published an article concluding that EPA should reduce the overall and advanced RVOs under the RFS in years 2014-2016 to make the policy "workable." As we have reported, earlier this month, EPA released its final rule setting the 2013 RFS, in which the Agency included language indicating that it will likely reduce the overall and advanced RVOs for 2014 in that upcoming rulemaking. Tyner's article, which can be found online, illustrates that it is not possible to meet the mandated RFS RVOs in 2014-2016 due to constraints imposed by the impending "blend wall." Based on this, Tyner concludes that EPA must reduce both the overall and advanced RVOs for those years to continue to make the RFS a "workable" policy.
This article is significant for several reasons. Purdue is considered a leading pro-biofuels academic voice on biofuels policy and the RFS. In addition, as Tyner points out in the article, the recommended reductions would represent a marked shift in the way EPA implements the RFS. To date, while EPA annually has reduced the cellulosic RVOs, it has maintained the levels for the overall and advanced RVOs contained in the RFS law, allowing those gallons to make up for the reduced cellulosic gallons. Reducing the overall and advanced gallons in future years would represent that those gallons are no longer expected to be able to make up the shortfall in cellulosic biofuels, due in part to restraints caused by the impending "blend wall."
In a letter from Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to Attorney General Eric Holder and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Edith Ramirez, the Senators have requested that the U.S. Department of Justice and the FTC investigate the efforts of the oil companies to block market access of renewable fuels in violation of the Sherman Act and the Gasohol Competition Act of 1980, which prohibits discrimination or unreasonable limits against the sale of gasoline or other synthetic motor fuels. A copy of the letter is available online.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it will, for the first time, use its Feedstock Flexibility Program to help restore U.S. sugar prices at or above specific levels. Under the program, U.S. sugar producers may sell their sugar to USDA, which then plans to sell it to biofuels producers. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, USDA is required to keep U.S. sugar at prices at or above certain levels. This year's prices have been low.
On August 15, 2013, USDA announced funding under its Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) for 631 energy efficiency and renewable energy projects throughout the country. About $400,000 will go to 13 projects designed to install blender pumps in gas stations, which will allow for the greater distribution of higher blends of ethanol, including E85 fuel. The ethanol industry has been calling for greater federal help on blender pumps to allow for greater distribution of E85, which can help alleviate the impending "blend wall."
This week, it is reported that shareholders of leading U.S. cellulosic biofuels company, KiOR, sued the company, its Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Financial Officer, alleging that they reported misleading information on production projections, which artificially inflated the stock price paid. Last year, the company completed construction of its biorefinery in Columbus, Mississippi, which has the capacity to produce up to 13 million gallons per year of cellulosic biofuels made from woody biomass. The company stated that it expected to ship its first commercial quantities of the fuel last fall, but did not do so until June 2013. In addition, the quantity shipped reportedly was less than the company projected in public statements.
This lawsuit comes at a time when the oil industry has repeatedly criticized EPA for setting its annual mandated cellulosic RVOs under the federal RFS too high compared to the actual available supply of that fuel. EPA just issued its 2013 cellulosic RVO at 6 million gallons, the majority of which EPA expects to be met by supply from KiOR, based in part on stated expectations of the company.
On August 12, 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its "World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates" report in which it projects the U.S. will produce a record 13.76 billion bushels of corn in 2013. The report is available online.
Representatives from ethanol trade groups Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) praised the news and argued that it showed the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was not contributing to higher food prices and that it "should be the last nail in the coffin of the ridiculous 'food versus fuel' argument." RFA's press release is available online.
New U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy is working hard this month to carry out the President's Climate Action Plan, which is available online. The plan is designed to "cut the carbon pollution that causes climate change and affects public health." This week, Administrator McCarthy participated in a town hall event at the University of Colorado at Boulder to discuss the plan and EPA's work on new emissions rules for new and existing power plants.