The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it has awarded more than $3 million in funding to four research institutions to study how chemicals behave when they come into contact with biological systems. The projects will focus on developing better models that predict the connection between exposures to chemicals and the chain of events that lead to an unwanted health effect. The results are expected to assist EPA in its mission to protect human health and the environment, to inform and impact EPA's chemical safety research, and to develop solutions for more sustainable chemicals and use computational science to understand the relationship between chemical exposures and health outcomes. A copy of EPA's press release is available online.
On February 11, 2014, Representative Dave Loebsack (D-IA) introduced H.R. 4051, the Renewable Fuel Utilization, Expansion, and Leadership (Re-FUEL) Act. The bill currently has no co-sponsors. The bill is designed to help fuel retailers with investments in renewable and alternative fuel infrastructure to provide consumers with the increased ability to choose alternative fuels at the pump. It would create a competitive grant program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to invest in renewable and alternative fuel infrastructure. Grants would be awarded to develop new or to retrofit existing infrastructure, including pumps for biofuels and hydrogen, tanks, piping, and electric vehicle chargers. Applicants would be required to provide a 30 percent non-federal match and the maximum grant to each entity per year would be $100,000. A copy of the bill is available online.
Representative Loebsack is a vocal supporter of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and has joined some of his colleagues to urge EPA to reconsider the Agency's current proposal to reduce the volumes of corn-starch ethanol and advanced biofuels under the law in 2014. Expanding the available distribution infrastructure as proposed in H.R. 4051 would help increase the availability and use of fuels with higher ethanol blends, including E85. This increased availability would help address the blend wall concerns cited as the driving factor for the proposed RFS volume reductions.
On February 13, 2014, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced S. 2021, a bill to extend and reform the $1 per-gallon biodiesel tax credit that expired on December 31, 2013. The bill would extend this credit for three years through 2017. It would provide a $1 per-gallon tax credit for the production of biodiesel, renewable diesel, and aviation jet fuel that complies with fuel standards and the Clean Air Act. The bill would modify the definition of biodiesel to encourage production from any biomass-based feedstock, or recycled oils and fats. It would increase the credit to $1.10 per-gallon for the first 15 million gallons of biodiesel produced by small producers with an annual production capacity of less than 60 million gallons. In addition, the bill would restrict the credit to fuel producers to ensure the credit goes to domestic biodiesel production and to prevent eligibility of fuel blenders that could potentially add a very small amount of biodiesel to petroleum diesel (a practice known as "splash and dash") to qualify.
This bill would likely be added to a larger tax extender package that new Senate Committee on Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) has said he is interested in moving through the Committee in the near future. It would be significant for the biodiesel industry, which produced .7 billion gallons more in 2013 when the biodiesel tax credit was available than in 2012 when Congress let the credit expire.
On February 17, 2014, GOJO Industries announced the launch of its new GOJO® ECOPREFERRED™ Pumice Hand Cleaner. The Hand Cleaner is a USDA Certified Biobased product under the Department's BioPreferred Program. To qualify for the BioPreferred Program, hand cleaners must have a minimum of 64 percent biobased content. A copy of GOJO's press release on the announcement is available online.
On February 10, 2014, the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure convened a field hearing in Charleston, West Virginia, on "The Charleston, West Virginia Chemical Spill." On January 9, 2014, a coal processing chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), stored in an aboveground tank owned by Freedom Industries leaked into the Elk River in West Virginia. The leak compromised the water supply to nine counties in the state affecting some 300,000 residents. Due to a lack of toxicological data on MCHM, health officials were delayed in identifying a safe use level and once one was calculated, detractors claimed it was questionable due to the paucity of actual data. The incident has quickly become a basis for accelerating reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a theme that was discussed at the hearing. A summary of the background and issues discussed at the field hearing is available online.
Several witnesses testified that the spill and the fact that authorities are unwilling to declare the affected water in West Virginia "safe" due to a lack of toxicological information on MCHM illustrates the need for TSCA reform. A recent Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG™) report on the spill and similar calls for new legislative action on TSCA is available online.
During the hearing, Representative Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) announced that she has introduced H.R. 4024, the Ensuring Access to Clean Water Act on February 10, 2014. The legislation would require states to create programs to oversee chemical storage facilities and inspect aboveground storage tanks. States without primacy would have programs created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A copy of the bill is available online.
Senate legislation has also been introduced to address the spill and calls for new chemical safety and security protections. On January 27, 2014, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act of 2014. The bill would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act by adding Part G -- Protection of Surface Water from Contamination by Chemical Storage Facilities. The bill is intended to strengthen states' ability to prevent chemical spills such as that of January 9, 2014. A fact sheet regarding the bill is available online.
Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) has issued a memorandum providing an overview of the new Senate bill. The memorandum is available online.
It is reported that House Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on the Environment and Economy Chair John Shimkus (R-IL) is working on draft legislation to reform TSCA, which Shimkus expects to introduce and on which he expects to hold a hearing in the coming weeks. B&C has issued a memorandum providing an overview of the Subcommittee's fifth hearing on TSCA reform held on February 4, 2014. The memorandum is available online.
There is a renewed sense of urgency for TSCA reform to be completed this year in the wake of the chemical spill into the Elk River in West Virginia last month, and the recent announcements that House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) is retiring this year and that Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is running for Governor of Louisiana. Representative Waxman is a champion of environmental issues and may view accomplishing TSCA reform important before he leaves, especially since it appears unlikely that a bill to address climate change -- one of his most passionate issues -- will pass this year. Senator Vitter is the co-sponsor of the Senate's bi-partisan TSCA reform bill, S. 1009, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA). B&C has issued a memorandum providing an overview and analysis of CSIA. The memorandum is available online.
Following the confirmation of Senator Max Baucus as the next Ambassador to China, on February 11, 2014, Senate Democrats voted to shift the leadership and make-up of impacted Committees. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) will now be the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, while Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) will take over as Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Newly elected Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) will now serve on the Senate EPW Committee.
Senator Landrieu is reportedly working to identify her priorities for the Senate Energy Committee. She is known to be a supporter of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and for increased opportunities for liquefied natural gas exports. The coal industry has stated its public support for Senator Landrieu's new position.
Senator Markey is a longtime champion of environmental issues and will likely add to the momentum to reform TSCA. The Senate version of TSCA reform legislation, S.1009, CSIA, must pass through the Senate EPW Committee before being considered by the full Senate.
The 5th Annual Bio-Based and Sustainable Chemicals Summit, held last week in San Diego, California, brought together nearly 200 industry leaders to discuss and debate the critical developments the industry is currently facing, including innovative feedstocks, end-user applications, and progress of established and new chemical production platforms and applications. Session topics included "Feedstocks for the Future -- Availability and Selection," "Direct Conversion of Biomass to Sugars or Other Products," "C3 – C6: Biobased Building Block Chemicals," "Emerging Biobased Polymers and Monomers," and "Spurring Market Adoption -- Brand Owner and Chemical Major Perspectives." In addition, there were case studies presented on biobased acrylic acid, biobased succinic acid, and licensing efforts in cellulosic biofuels.
Kathleen M. Roberts, Executive Director of BRAG and Chair of the Summit, commented that "It was exciting to hear of the remarkable progress this innovative industry has made over the last few years. As a young industry, there is tremendous value in the larger community coming together to collaborate and compare notes on the science, business, and regulatory successes, as well as setbacks. I was very impressed with the in-depth case study presentations, the frank panel discussions, and the thought-provoking question and answer sessions. It was an honor to be among this gathering of the best and brightest in the sector."
Lawrence D. Sloan, President of SOCMA, added that "This conference brought together true start-ups, advanced start-ups ready to license their technologies to big chemical companies, industry consultants, non-profits, government agencies, and financing professionals, offering attendees four days of excellent networking opportunities. The case studies helped highlight the fact that industrial biotechnology has the potential to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels while utilizing waste agricultural products that would otherwise be discarded. For the most part, the so called 'green premium' does not exist, and the early innovators must compete ever harder against the incumbent players."
Those who did not attend are encouraged to watch for news of the 6th Summit, tentatively scheduled for February 2015. There are a number of excellent upcoming conferences at which BRAG will present and/or lead panels, including the BIO World Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in May 2014, and the 18th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in Bethesda, Maryland, in June 2014. See the "Seminars and Conferences" page of BRAG's website for details.
On February 11, 2014, Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) announced that the company has committed to a $25 million equity investment in Rennovia, Inc., a privately held company that develops catalysts and processes for the cost-advantaged production of chemical products from renewable feedstocks. According to ADM's press release on the announcement, the company is making this investment as "part of ADM's ongoing efforts to enhance returns by strengthening [its] portfolio of higher-margin products." A copy of ADM's press release is available online.
On February 10, 2014, Lockheed Martin announced that it has partnered with the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) "allowing ACORE to become an official partner with, NASCAR Green, the sustainability arm of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc. Through this agreement, Lockheed Martin and ACORE will jointly engage an audience of millions of NASCAR fans, delivering educational content about the benefits of renewable energy, sustainability and energy security...The sponsorship aims to promote careers in the renewable energy community writ large by highlighting the life-long value of studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in order to build a strong, secure, economically viable and sustainable future." A copy of Lockheed Martin's press release is available online.
On February 5, 2014, Purdue University announced that three researchers in the University's colleges of Engineering and Science received more than $130,000 from the Trask Innovation Fund to develop their work. One of these researchers was awarded $50,000 for "Selective Catalysis for the Production of High Value Flavor and Fragrance Chemicals from Wood Biomass." A copy of Purdue University's press release is available online.
On February 10, 2014, Monsanto issued a press release announcing that Monsanto and Novozymes are closing The BioAg Alliance. According to the release, "[t]he announcement follows the satisfaction of relevant closing conditions and the receipt of required regulatory approvals. Both companies will now focus on implementing the long-term strategic alliance. The BioAg Alliance is unique in the industry, bringing together Novozymes' commercial BioAg operations and capabilities within microbial discovery, development and production with Monsanto's microbial discovery, advanced biology, field testing and commercial capabilities. The result will be a comprehensive research, development, and commercial collaboration for sustainable microbial products to help farmers globally meet the challenge of producing more with less -- for the benefit of agriculture, consumers, the environment and society at large." A copy of Monsanto's press release is available online.
AVA Biochem has announced that "commercial scale production of the high-purity renewable platform chemical 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF) has started at the Biochem-1 facility operated by AVA Biochem in Muttenz, Switzerland." This renewable 5-HMF will be used in a variety of applications, including chemicals and products. A copy of AVA Biochem's press release is available online.
President Obama is expected to sign H.R. 2642, the Agriculture Act of 2014 (the new five-year Farm Bill), into law on Friday at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. He is scheduled to speak there about the importance of the legislation.
The Farm Bill is critically significant to the biofuels and renewable chemicals and products industries because the new Farm Bill continues and expands on the majority of the energy programs covered under the 2008 Farm Bill and provides $881 million in mandatory funding to carry them out. For instance, the new Farm Bill continues the Biobased Markets and Biorefinery Assistance programs, as well as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which helps encourage and facilitate the growth of purpose grown energy crops to be used for energy production. It modifies the existing Biorefinery Assistance Program to create the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program and extend funding eligibility to producers of renewable chemicals and biobased products. The mandatory funding under this program and expanded eligibility marks a big victory for the biofuels and renewable chemicals and products industries.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 2642 by a bi-partisan vote of 251-166 on January 29, 2014. The Senate followed suit on February 4, 2014, by a bi-partisan vote of 68-32.
On February 4, 2014, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy held its fifth hearing this term on potential reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA). The Subcommittee is working on drafting its version of a TSCA reform bill. This latest hearing focused on potential reforms to Sections 4 and 8 of the law. TSCA Section 4 covers when and under what circumstances the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may require chemical substances to be tested, and TSCA Section 8 authorizes EPA to keep an inventory of potentially harmful chemicals.
Seven witnesses representing the gamut of stakeholders -- from the chemical and healthcare industries to environmental groups -- testified at the hearing. Generally, chemical industry stakeholders stressed the need for any new TSCA requirements on industry to be limited in scope and focused on the most harmful chemicals. On the other hand, environmental stakeholders urged the expansion of EPA authority to require chemical testing, among other things.
Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. has issued a comprehensive summary and commentary on the hearing, which is available online. There is a renewed sense of urgency for TSCA reform to be completed this year in the wake of the chemical spill into the Elk River in West Virginia last month, and the recent announcements that House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) is retiring this year and that Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is running for the Governor of Louisiana. Representative Waxman is a champion of environmental issues and may view accomplishing TSCA reform important before he leaves, especially since it appears unlikely that a bill to address climate change -- one of his most passionate issues -- will pass this year. Senator Vitter is the co-sponsor of the Senate's bi-partisan TSCA reform bill, S. 1009, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA).