On November 20, 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its intent to release for comment proposed Draft Guidelines for Product Environmental Performance Standards and Ecolabels for Voluntary Use in Federal Procurement (Draft Guidelines). EPA states the Draft Guidelines -- developed by EPA, the General Services Administration (GSA), and other federal agencies following several "listening sessions" with a wide range of stakeholders -- are intended to help federal purchasers identify and select greener products and meet sustainability purchasing goals. Under several federal purchasing mandates, including but not limited to Executive Order 13514 (Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance) and the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 23.103, federal agencies must ensure that 95 percent of their acquisitions and contracts are sustainable, such as by buying environmentally preferable products.
The Draft Guidelines and a pre-publication version of the Federal Register notice announcing the availability of the Draft Guidelines are available online. A 90-day comment period will be set once the Federal Register is published, which is expected in early December 2013.
Our full memorandum, with background and analysis, is available on the BRAG website.
The ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources Pesticides, Chemical Regulation, and Right-to-Know (PCRRTK) Committee Newsletter for November 2013 is a special issue devoted to Green Chemistry. Topics covered include the Federal Trade Commissions's enforcement of the Green Guides, EPA’s Design for the Environment program, Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Reform, and the Green Chemistry Movement, and the role of public disclosure policies in the selection of greener chemistries. The newsletter is available online.
The Society for the Commercial Development of Industrial Biotechnology (SCD-iBIO), an affiliate of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates (SOCMA) and Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG™) strategic partner, held its 2nd International Forum in Philadelphia on November 11, 2013. The focus was "Commercializing Global Green: Markets from the Value Chain Perspective" and the program included symposia on the Automotive, Advanced Biofuels, Cleaning and Personal Care, Packaging, Adhesives, Sealants, and Coatings markets. Marcel Lubben, Vice President of Bio-based Chemicals & Materials of Royal DSM, delivered the keynote speech. In keeping with SCD-iBIO's mission of expanding the understanding of basic principles of commercial development, attendees learned about natural capital and explored the impact of shale gas on the industrial biotechnology industry. SCD-iBIO established a committee on nomenclature and standards in conjunction with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), as well as its own education, planning, and benchmarking committees.
On November 15, 2013, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy signed the long-awaited and much anticipated Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to set the 2014 renewable volume obligations (RVO) under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Included in the NPRM is a proposal to repeal retroactively the 2011 cellulosic RVOs and refund obligated parties nearly $5 million to recover their costs for trying to meet them. Simultaneously, the Agency issued a pre-publication of its request for comment on several petitions it has received from the American Petroleum Institute (API), American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and individual obligated parties requesting that EPA grant a partial waiver of the 2014 RFS statutory RVOs. Copies of the pre-published NPRM and the pre-published request for comment notice are available online.
The NPRM appears to be similar to the draft of it that was leaked publicly last month. It marks a shift in EPA's implementation of the RFS, as it proposes to reduce the overall and advanced RVOs, in addition to the cellulosic RVOs. EPA cites blend wall concerns for the proposed overall and advanced reductions. The Agency proposes to maintain the 2013 RVOs for biodiesel in both 2014 and 2015 at a level of 1.28 billion gallons. The cellulosic, advanced, and total renewable RVO gallons contained in the RFS statute for 2014 are: 1.75 billion for cellulosic, 3.75 billion for advanced, and 18.15 billion for total renewable fuel (the RVO for corn starch ethanol is this number minus those for advanced, cellulosic and biodiesel). The proposed RVO gallons for 2014 are: 17 million for cellulosic, 2.2 billion for advanced, and 15.21 billion for total renewable.
Advocates on both sides have ramped up their advocacy since the release of the NPRM. The oil industry continues to call for full repeal of the RFS through the legislative process and the biofuels industry has denounced EPA's shift in RFS implementation, stressing the importance of the stability of the RFS to continue investment in biofuels, especially advanced and cellulosic biofuels. In addition, new groups have formed to add to the debate. A veterans group, VoteVets.org, and Americans United for Change have plans for a media campaign to support ethanol and the RFS. The Bipartisan Policy Center is forming an advisory committee of biofuels stakeholders to develop proposals for RFS reform. Just before the release of the NPRM, a group of 32 Senators, including Patty Murray (D-WA), Al Franken (D-MN), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), sent a letter to EPA, calling on the Agency to increase the biodiesel RVO for 2014 instead of holding it at this year's levels as was proposed in the leaked draft 2014 RFS proposed rule (and as is maintained in the official NPRM).
A hearing will be held on December 5, 2013, beginning at 9:00 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City located in Arlington, Virginia. A copy of the notice is available online.
This week could determine whether Congress will be able to pass its next five-year Farm Bill by the end of this year. Congress is expected to adjourn for its Thanksgiving recess at the end of this week, and the House of Representatives is expected to adjourn for the year on December 13, 2013. With the little time remaining to conduct official Congressional business this year, two of the four principal Farm Bill conferees working to join the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill into one final piece of legislation, have made public statements stressing the importance of reaching a deal by the end of the week. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) reported that the four principal conferees are working intensely this week to reach agreement on a framework for the final bill. Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK) has reportedly asserted that this is the "deadline" week for conferees to reach agreement on final legislation to provide the House of Representatives time to pass it before the year's end.
While there are some reports that progress is being made to merge the House and Senate versions of crop insurance programs, the most significant difference apparently remains on food stamps. The Senate-passed version contains $4 billion in cuts to the program over ten years, while the House version would cut $40 billion. There is some talk that Congress could look to pass a short term extension of the current Farm Bill if enough progress is not made this week.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced its Commodity Credit Corporation's (CCC) third sale of sugar this year for use as a feedstock for bioenergy production under the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Farm Bill) Feedstock Flexibility Program (FFP). The minimum FFP bid has been increased to 50,000 short tons (100 million pounds) to provide the opportunity for commercial-scale sugar use in bioenergy production. The opportunity to purchase sugar under this sale is available online.
USDA has sold sugar twice this year under the FFP, both times at a loss for the government. The 2008 Farm Bill, which expired on September 30, 2013, directs USDA to keep sugar prices at or above certain levels, and authorizes USDA either to acquire sugar through forfeiture of sugar loans made by USDA's CCC, or to buy sugar and sell it to bioenergy producers until prices rise to those levels. Domestic sugar prices have been falling this year. BRAG's reports on the previous sales are available online.
This week, the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation released its score of S. 795, the Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act, a bi-partisan bill introduced by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) earlier this year. The Committee estimated that the bill would cost $1.3 billion over ten years. Reportedly, Senator Coons welcomed the score and has committed to trying to find an offset or spending cut to pay for it. The Chair of the Senate Finance Committee's Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), has publicly stated her support for the legislation, which helps the bill's chances for passage.
S. 795 would amend the Internal Revenue Code, with respect to the tax treatment of publicly traded partnerships as corporations, to expand the definition of "qualifying income" for such partnerships to include income and gains from renewable and alternative fuels and energy derived from renewable fuels and chemicals, as well as other types of alternative energy. Master Limited Partnerships (MLP) has been used by the fossil fuels industry since the 1980s as a successful way to attract capital and the renewable energy industry hopes to do the same. Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) has introduced a companion bill, H.R. 1696, in the House of Representatives.
On November 19, 2013, EPA's request for comment on its Draft FY 2014-2018 Strategic Plan was published in the Federal Register. In addition, according to the notice, EPA is proposing new FY 2014-2015 Agency Priority Goals. Comments are due by January 3, 2014. A copy of the notice is available online.
As described in the notice, "The Strategic Plan provides the Agency's long-term direction and strategies for advancing human health and the environment." In addition, EPA has made targeted revisions to "[its] existing Plan that seek to advance efforts to address our changing climate, protect our precious water and land resources, and advance chemical safety."
On November 14, 2013, renewable chemical company, Avantium, announced that it has demonstrated that polyethylene furanoate (PEF) can be used to make fibers, and that these PEF fibers from recycled PEF bottles have been processed into 100% biobased T-shirts. In Avantium's press release, the Company's CEO described the significance of this development: "These first PEF T-shirts are yet another important step in the development and commercialization of PEF as a 100% biobased and recyclable material... The production of the first biobased PEF T-shirts produced from recycled bottles, adds apparel and sportswear to the many potential outlets of PEF. With its reduced carbon footprint, and improved performance, PEF is truly the sustainable plastic material of the future." A copy of the press release is available online.
On November 18, 2013, Novozymes announced that it will "supply enzyme technology to the world's first biomass to glycols bio-refinery to be constructed by M&G Chemicals in China." The biorefinery is expected to begin operations in 2015. A copy of Novozymes' press release is available online.