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.