The Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG) helps members develop and bring to market their innovative biobased and renewable chemical products through insightful policy and regulatory advocacy. BRAG is managed by B&C® Consortia Management, L.L.C., an affiliate of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On January 13, 2020, U.S. Representative Cindy Axne announced that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has responded to a bipartisan letter submitted by members of the House Biofuels Caucus (HBC) requesting an investigation into misuse of small refinery exemptions (SREs) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Submitted in August 2019, the bipartisan letter requested that GAO examine EPA’s review and approval of SRE waivers under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). HBC’s letter also included a request for inspection of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) viability scores for SREs reviewed in 2018. HBC’s concerns were mostly related to the economic consequences to rural communities due to the exemption of approximately four billion gallons of fuel from the RFS in 2018. In addition to the aforementioned requests, HBC members asked that GAO also consider the following questions:

  • Has DOE changed the criteria, the interpretation of the criteria, the methodology, or any other significant aspect of how it makes its recommendations to EPA for SREs?
     
  • Other than the viability score provided by DOE, what other factors are being considered by EPA in awarding SRE waivers? How has this changed since the previous Administration?
     
  • Since the development of DOE’s 2011 methodology, what percentage of applications that received a disqualifying viability score from the DOE were granted?
     
  • How many times has DOE recommended a partial waiver for a refinery?
     
  • Has EPA granted a partial waiver?
     
  • Does EPA or DOE consider the economic viability of the parent refiner company when considering an application from an individual refinery?
     
  • Does DOE take Renewable Identification Numbers (RIN) into account when assessing relief petitions?

On January 10, 2020, GAO responded to the bipartisan request, agreeing to review matters related to the approval of SRE waivers and stating that it will begin its work shortly. Mark E. Gaffigan, Managing Director of GAO’s Natural Resources and Environment, and his staff will be in charge of the investigation.

In August 2019, Axne had also submitted a letter to EPA’s Acting Inspector General (IG), Charles Sheehan, requesting an investigation of this matter. In its response letter to HBC, GAO stated that it will be in contact with the cognizant IG’s office to ensure that efforts are not duplicated.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On January 10, 2020, DOE announced that it will provide up to $75 million for research and development (R&D) of sustainable bioenergy crops within a period of five years. The bioenergy crops to be developed should be tolerant of environmental stress and resilient to changing environment conditions. Funded projects will focus on better comprehending the genetic and physiological mechanisms influencing plant productivity, resource use, and resilience, among other factors. DOE is encouraging researchers to draw on resources of its Office of Science user facilities and to take advantage of “omics” tools and techniques, including genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics. Funding applications will be open for industry, non-profit research institutions, and universities with possible collaborators at DOE national laboratories and other federal agencies. Beginning this fiscal year, funding will be awarded in the form of five-year grants ranging from $1 to $3 million per year. DOE’s funding opportunity announcement (FOA) and a companion laboratory call can be accessed here.

Tags: DOE, Biofuel

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On January 10, 2020, the National Farmers’ Union of Scotland (NFUS) announced its pursuit for high level solutions to machinery problems linked to biofuel content. According to NFUS, many Scottish and UK farmers are experiencing issues because of the percentage of biofuel content in fuel for farming machinery. In December 2019, NFUS submitted a letter to Grant Shapps, Member of Parliament (MP) and Secretary of State for Transport, requesting long-term solutions for this problem. NFSU’s key requests include:

  • Broker a fuel replacement scheme to enable farmers with problematic fuel to receive a fuel uplift and refill of alternative fuel suitable for their needs;
     
  • Conduct a review of the specification and testing protocols ensuring that fuel produced in the UK is fit for farmers’ purposes and is reliable;
     
  • Ensure that the review of specifications and testing protocols occur in a timely manner to prevent a future crisis; and
     
  • Lead further research into the behavior of recycled oil and animal fats within diesel to determine if specific components need to be excluded from it.

Also in December 2019, NFUS representatives attended a meeting with industry experts, which resulted in the creation of a task force to begin working on this issue immediately. NFUS Policy Adviser Zoe Meldrum stated, “Fuel problems remain a top priority for our members and time and resource continues to be dedicated towards finding practical solutions and apply lessons from this event to ensure fuel issues such as this cannot impact agriculture again.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

In late December 2019, CRDF Global, an independent non-profit focused on the global scientific community and alternatives to weapons research, announced a partnership with the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine (MES) in launching the 2020 U.S.-Ukraine Alternative Energy Research Competition. Currently accepting proposals from joint teams of U.S. and Ukrainian researchers, the competition will focus on the advancement of alternative energy sources. Intended to work toward a future of affordable solutions to address the rapid increase of the global population and, consequently, energy consumption increase, the competition is accepting proposals that directly apply to photovoltaic or biofuel technology. These include proposals on engineering, nanotechnology, biochemistry, microbiology, and plant study research. Awards of up to $72,000 will be provided for 12 months. Proposals are due no later than February 28, 2020.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On December 19, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, signed the final rule on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program, setting the renewable fuel percentages for 2020. Titled Renewable Fuel Standard Program: Standards for 2020 and Biomass-Based Diesel Volume for 2021 and Other Changes, the final rule establishes the annual percentage standards for cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel that apply to gasoline and diesel transportation fuel produced or imported in 2020. The rule also establishes the applicable volume of biomass-based diesel for 2021. The final volume requirements can be accessed here. Thus far, industry stakeholders seem displeased with the standard calculations to account for volumes of fuels projected to be exempted from the renewable volume obligations (RVOs). The waiver limits biofuel producers were hoping for are not reflected in the final rule. While the final rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register (FR), it will become effective 60 days after the FR publication. Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. will continue to monitor and provide further details once the final rule is published.

Tags: RFS, Biofuel

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On December 9, 2019, the Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2019 (H.R. 2051) was passed by the House of Representatives. H.R. 2051 establishes an interagency working group (IWG) led by the Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate Federal programs and activities in support of sustainable chemistry. The IWG will develop a roadmap for sustainable chemistry with a framework of attributes characterizing sustainable chemistry, assess the state of sustainable chemistry in the United States, and identify methods by which federal agencies can incentivize sustainable chemistry activities, challenges to sustainable chemistry progress, and opportunities for expanding federal sustainable chemistry efforts. On December 10, 2019, the bill was received in the Senate, read twice, and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

First published last week, on November 25, 2019, the article titled “Consolidated Production of Coniferol and Other High-Value Aromatic Alcohols Directly from Lignocellulosic Biomass” has gained media attention across the globe. Given the finite geological oil reserves, the competition to identify alternative biobased and biorefinery processes continues to grow. According to the article, the aim in identifying such products is not only to find alternatives, but most importantly to “overcome significant costs and productivity barriers.” In the aforementioned article, published in the Green Chemistry Journal, scientists write about a novel technique using the biocatalytic production of coniferol (a versatile chemical block) directly from lignocellulosic biomass. The process to do so involves a biocatalytic treatment of lignocellulose, which releases and converts ferulic acid with feruloyl esterase (XynZ), carboxylic acid reductase (CAR), and aldo-keto reductase (AKR). This catalytic reaction achieves the equivalent release of ferulic acid from lignocellulose compared to alkaline hydrolysis, also displaying efficient conversion of ferulic acid to coniferol. Consolidating a biodegradation-biotransformation strategy for the production of high value fine chemicals from waste plant biomass, this novel process offers a potential to minimize environmental waste and add value to agro-industrial residues. A number of grants, including from the São Paulo Research Foundation and David Phillips Fellowship, supported the study outlined in the journal article. Grants of these types continue to arise as the need to address resource efficiency and, therefore, biobased chemical production has become the focus of various government agencies in many countries. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for example, often provides scientist from all backgrounds similar opportunities.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On December 3, 2019, Governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, signed an Executive Order that requires all new contracts for the purchase of state vehicles with diesel engines to have written support from the manufacturer to use B20 biodiesel (a mix of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum-based diesel) or more. The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) started using biodiesel blends in 1994. B20 is used for most of the year already, in most equipment with a diesel engine, including motor graders and snowplows, among others. Largely contributing to Iowa’s job market and accounting for $568 million of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP), Iowa’s biodiesel plants increased their biodiesel production by 20 percent by the end of 2018. Governor Reynolds stated: “Ethanol and biodiesel remain essential to the health of the agricultural economy, sustainable environmental commitments and employ thousands of Iowans. I am proud to stand alongside Iowa Farm Bureau and key stakeholders in the renewable fuels industry to secure the continued demand for biofuels.”

Tags: Iowa, Biofuel, B20, DOT

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On November 14, 2019, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced legislation seeking to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) under the Clean Air Act (CAA). The Growing Renewable Energy through Existing and New Environmentally Responsible (GREENER) Fuels Act is intended to mitigate the “harmful environmental impacts of the corn ethanol mandate,” according to a press release issued by the lawmakers. The bill would phase out the corn ethanol mandate and immediately reduce the amount of ethanol in fuel by as much as 1 billion gallons by capping the amount of ethanol that can be blended into conventional gasoline at 9.7 percent. The legislation also seeks to help farmers return cornfields to pasture and wildlife habitat through a 10 cents per renewable identification number (RIN) fee to fund a new Private Land Protection and Restoration Fund in the U.S. Treasury. The fund will help pay for Department of Interior (DOI) programs that pay for easements on private lands to keep them out of agricultural production; keep the lands in conservation uses like grass, forest, stream buffers, or pollinator habitat; and help farmers transition land currently in crop production into other uses. The GREENER Fuels Act also would extend the cellulosic and advanced next-generation biofuel mandate until 2 billion gallons of annual production is achieved or 2037, whichever is sooner, and alters the way the mandate is implemented to produce liquid transportation fuels that dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Tags: RFS, Biofuel

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On November 4, 2019, 60 organizations unified in an effort to urge U.S. President Donald Trump to reconsider EPA’s proposed amendments to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. Signed by organizations such as the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), a Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®) member, the letter to the President indicates flaws within the aforementioned proposal released on October 15, 2019. Arguing that the proposed amendments would not accurately account for small refiner exemptions (SRE), the letter authors state that “[t]he flawed proposal swaps out a critical component of the SRE remedy sought by farmers and the biofuels industry,” failing to achieve its mission to incentivize farm economies. Given the proposal to recover gallons of biofuel exemptions based on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) recommendations, the proposed amendment would lead to a “bureaucratically uncertain path that recovers only one fraction of those gallons lost to SREs and could result in RFS backsliding in 2020.” Therefore, the letter concludes by urging President Trump to consider SRE accountability based on a rolling average of the actual volumes exempted by EPA during the three compliance years. Similar concerns and requests have been expressed by many industry stakeholders via docket comments as well as during last week’s public hearing held by EPA. The comment period ends on November 29, 2019, and doubts continue as industry expects EPA’s final rulemaking.

Tags: RFS, BIO, BRAG

 
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