On November 29, 2013, EPA published its proposed rule on "2014 Standards for the Renewable Fuel Standard Program" and a "Notice of Receipt of Petitions for a Waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard." Copies of the proposed rule and notice published in the Federal Register are available online, and online. Comments on both are due by January 28, 2014.
BRAG's coverage of the pre-published versions of the proposed rule and notice is available online.
On December 5, 2013, EPA held a public hearing in Arlington, Virginia, on the proposed rule. The Agency heard from more than 140 stakeholders from every side of the RFS debate, including public officials and farmers, as well as company executives and trade associations representing the corn, biofuels, and oil and gas industries. Witness testimony was generally consistent with previous public comments.
For instance, representatives from the oil and gas industry expressed concern that the proposed rule does not go far enough. They argued generally that even with the proposed reductions to all renewable fuel volume obligations (RVO), the E10 blend wall could still be breached, which would force a restriction in gasoline availability and higher prices at the pump for consumers. A representative from the Union of Concerned Scientists pointed out that EPA should place more emphasis on the market potential of E85 as a solution to the blend wall concerns and option to help meet the statutory RFS RVOs. Representatives from the biofuels industry argued that EPA should revise the proposed rule and include higher RVOs more consistent with the RVO targets included in the RFS statute for 2014. They argued these revisions are needed to protect ongoing investment in the further development and commercialization of U.S. biofuels, especially advanced and cellulosic biofuels.
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.
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.
Attendees at the Society for the Commercial Development of Industrial Biotechnology's (SCD-iBIO) 2nd Annual "Commercializing Global Green" forum in Philadelphia this week participated in a practical, in-depth three-hour workshop presented by the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG™) on the critical policy, legislative, and regulatory issues impacting the commercialization of renewable chemicals. Lynn L. Bergeson, Managing Partner of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) and Of Counsel with BRAG, shared the latest developments from Capitol Hill on the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 (CSIA) (S. 1009), in what she referred to as a "groundbreaking legislation" with bi-partisan support. Ms. Bergeson cautioned that "many difficulties remain and the likelihood of success is unclear." Ms. Bergeson also emphasized the need for the biochemical industry to engage with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and identified strategies for companies to move successfully new chemicals through the regulatory process with EPA under the current version of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
Kathleen M. Roberts, Executive Director of BRAG, updated workshop attendees on BRAG's efforts to petition for partial reporting exemptions under the TSCA Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) rule, and other efforts BRAG is making to level the regulatory playing field for biobased chemical manufacturers. Attendees learned about the complexities surrounding byproduct reporting under the CDR. They also learned that a number of listed chemicals, mainly derivative of the petroleum process stream, are exempted from Part III reporting, but those from renewable feedstocks are not, so the renewable chemicals may face higher regulatory hurdles than manufacturers anticipate. BRAG will be petitioning EPA early in 2014 for exemptions using a list of Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) numbers provided by members, and Ms. Roberts urged renewable chemical manufacturers to contact her to be included on this list.
Copies of BRAG's workshop presentations are available by contacting Chad Howlin at Tags: TSCA, workshop
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.