On March 12, 2015, Christopher Grundler, Director of EPA's Office
of Transportation and Air Quality, signed the Notice
Of Opportunity to Comment on an Analysis of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Attributable to Production and Transport of Pennycress (Thlaspi Avense) Oil for
Use in Biofuel Production. This notice states that biofuels
produced from pennycress oil could qualify as biomass-based diesel or advanced
biofuel when they are produced using typical fuel production process
technologies. The notice is the result of an analysis of the greenhouse gas
(GHG) emissions that come from the production and transport of pennycress oil.
According to the analysis, pennycress oil has less than or equal GHG emissions
per ton of oil than soybean oil when accounting for crop inputs, crushing,
extraction, and direct and indirect land use change. Soybean oil and pennycress
oil are expected to also have the same fuel yield per pound of oil. This means
that pennycress oil-based biofuels could produce less GHG than soybean
oil-based biofuels. The notice has not yet been published in the Federal
Register, but once posted will be found at the soon to be opened Docket No.
EPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0091. Comments will be open for 30 days after publication.
On February 26, 2015, the Oregon State Senate passed Senate
Bill 324 (SB 324), a measure that would require fuel producers to
reduce the amount of carbon in car and truck fuels. If passed by the Oregon
House of Representatives, SB 324 will implement a low-carbon standard in the
state of Oregon. The measure is modeled on California's fuel standard, and
would require fuel importers to cut the carbon in fuels by 10 percent from 2016 to 2025.
This would result in a three percent reduction of the total emissions in
Oregon. The fuel standard could be met through increasing the percentage of
alternative fuels being blended into products, or by using more advanced
biofuels to replace current alternative fuels that are already being blended
into fuels. If the fuel companies are not able to blend to reach the proper
low-carbon standard, they will have to buy credits to offset the excess carbon
in their fuels. Carbon credits could be created and sold by any Oregon-based
public or private entity that is cutting transportation-related carbon
emissions. This broad rule leads to uncertainty in what the cost of carbon
credits will be, and could lead to higher fuel prices. The Oregon Department of
Environmental Quality will be authorized to stop or slow down the low-carbon
standard if the price of gasoline increases substantially as a result of the
On February 25, 2015, the
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the third round of Strategic
Technical Assistance Response Team (START) Renewable Energy Project Development
Assistance that provides tribal governments and entities with
support to produce clean and renewable energy. The START program was launched
in December 2011 and has helped 21 tribal communities advance solar, wind,
biofuels, and energy efficiency projects. The program is open to Indian Tribes,
Alaska Native regional corporations, and formally organized tribal energy
resource development organizations. Applications are due to the DOE Office
of Indian Energy by May
1, 2015, and up to five projects will be selected by the end of
February 2, 2015, the
White House released the 2016 fiscal year budget request for the U.S.
Department of Energy (DOE). Under this proposed plan, DOE
would receive $29.9 billion, an increase of $2.6 billion from the
2015 fiscal year. The increase in funding for DOE would focus on renewable
energy, energy efficiency, and clean power technology with some of the
additional money coming from DOE's fossil fuel programs. A total of $7.4
billion of the funding would go specifically towards clean energy technology,
including renewable and biobased developments. The budget request would also
make the renewable energy production and investment tax credits permanent. In
addition to making the existing tax credits permanent, new credits were
proposed that will focus on carbon capture, utilization, and storage
technologies. In contrast to the proposed additional tax credits for
renewables, existing tax incentives for the oil, gas, and coal industries would
be repealed. The current budget request is unlikely to pass in the House of
Representatives, but shows the focus on renewable energy that the current
On February 3, 2015, West
Virginia repealed the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act that was
originally passed and adopted in 2009. This Act (the Standard)
required utilities serving 30,000 residential customers or more to generate at
least 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. To be in
compliance with the Standard, utilities could use coal (e.g., advanced
coal technologies and waste coal), natural gas, and fuel generated from burning
tires as alternative energy sources. This broad definition of what constituted
renewable and alternative energy made the Standard easy to comply with, and
utilities did not have issues reaching the benchmark percentages that were
outlined in the legislation. The Governor of West Virginia, Earl Ray Tomblin
(D), stated that the Standard was repealed because it was no longer economically
beneficial for West Virginia.
EPA announced that renewable fuels produced from sorghum biomass
could qualify as cellulosic fuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). This
is a result of a preliminary analysis of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions
resulting from the growth and transport of biomass sorghum feedstocks that are
used to make biofuels. The analysis, which was conducted in response to a
petition from the National Sorghum Producers, assumes that the emissions from
production of biofuels from biomass sorghum are similar to those from
is accepting comments on the analysis until January 30, 2015.
On December 19, 2014, the European Union (EU) Commission called
for comments on EU Emission Trading System Directive revisions. The revisions
include changes to how carbon allowances will be made available to participants
in the EU's emissions trading system after 2020 to reduce GHG emissions by at
least 40 percent in 2030 compared to 1990. The 2030
framework for climate and energy also proposes the use of 400
million carbon allowances to create a fund for renewable energy and carbon
sequestration projects, and the use of two percent of allowances to finance
energy efficiency and energy system upgrades in poorer EU countries. Parties
interested in commenting on the revisions must register and submit input by March 16, 2015.
On October 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released two plans related to climate change. The Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan and the Climate Change Adaptation Plan are intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for flooding, rising sea levels, and extreme temperatures/weather patterns. These plans come five years after the 2009 Executive Order on Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance that set energy, climate, and environmental goals for government agencies. The release of the plans gave Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz an opportunity to outline how the use of clean energy resources, as part of the Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, has been implemented within the Department. DOE has increased the number of buildings that achieved federal guiding principles for high performance and sustainable buildings. It has completed a biomass cogeneration facility in South Carolina and an 11.5 megawatt wind farm, both of which serve to reduce the use of non-renewable energy. DOE was also recognized as a 2014 GreenGov Presidential Award Winner for its work with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to produce a five percent reduction in DOT's total fuel consumption, and a 20 percent increase in DOT's use of alternative fuels.
During a summit in Brussels on October 23-24, 2014, European Union (EU) leaders agreed to a blueprint to guide climate and energy policy through 2030. The overall goals of the blueprint are to achieve a 40 percent emissions reduction by 2030, relative to 1990 emissions levels, as well as a target of 27 percent for total energy consumption in the EU being provided by renewable sources by 2030. The EU already has a 20 percent emissions reduction target for 2020. The target is expected to help build and maintain momentum for the larger 2030 emissions goal. Individual countries will not be responsible for the 27 percent renewable energy goal, rather, the EU as a whole wants to reach that level of renewable energy. In order to assist countries in achieving this goal, the EU is increasing the current 300 million Emissions Trading System (ETS) allowances to 400 million to help fund low-carbon innovation. More information about the 2030 Climate and Energy Policy Framework can be found in the EU's post-summit communique.
On August 7, 2014, a group of nine Democratic Senators led by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) sent a letter to the EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, on the treatment of biogenic carbon emissions from stationary sources. The other eight Senators who signed the letter are: Tim Johnson (D-SD); Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND); Ron Wyden (D-OR); Maria Cantwell (D-WA); Al Franken (D-MN); Patty Murray (D-WA); Joe Donnelly (D-IN); and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The letter comes at a time when EPA is working to issue in final a rulemaking providing guidelines for such treatment.
In their letter, the Senators caution that treating biogenic carbon emissions in the same way as fossil fuel emissions could negatively impact the development and commercialization of advanced biofuels, biopower, renewable chemicals, and other industrial biotechnologies. They urge EPA to recognize in its treatment of biogenic carbon emissions that "carbon emissions resulting from the utilization of sustainably-sourced, renewable biomass feedstocks do not result in lasting increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, and therefore should not be subject to greenhouse gas regulations."
BRAG has previously reported on developments in the biogenic carbon debate. The most recent report is available online.