By Richard E. Engler, Ph.D.
On April 5, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Industrial Microbes, Inc. (Industrial Microbes) has been awarded $300,000 in funding through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program to develop a green fermentation platform to replace carbon-emitting petrochemical production with newer methods that use methane and carbon dioxide to produce chemicals. The project aims to improve the efficiency of chemical manufacturing while limiting pollution using a fermentation process based on engineered enzyme pathways within living cells, similar to the chemical conversion process used to brew beer. Well-to-gate life cycle analysis of the process demonstrated that carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by six-fold compared to the current production process, due to carbon dioxide fixation and more efficient unit operations. Industrial Microbes is one of nine small businesses that received a total of nearly $2.7 million in funding through the SBIR Program to develop and commercialize new environmental technologies.
On March 21, 2017, the renewable fuel volume requirements for 2017, which were issued in final by EPA on December 12, 2016, were implemented. The effective date for the 2017 requirements was delayed following the Presidential directive to postpone the implementation of new regulations to allow for review by the new administration. Although EPA has yet to publish an announcement on the matter, industry stakeholders have welcomed the 2017 biofuel volumes and 2018 biomass-based diesel volumes. As reported in the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®) blog post “EPA Publishes Final 2017 RFS Requirements,” the volume requirements are:
||311 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel in 2017;
||4.28 billion gallons of advanced biofuel in 2017;
||19.28 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2017; and
||2.1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel in 2018.
On March 13, 2017, the South Dakota Farmers Union announced that the National Farmers Union had passed a resolution calling for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to open the market to higher blends of ethanol during its annual meeting in San Diego. The resolution, which was brought forward by the South Dakota Farmers Union delegation, promotes the use of higher blended fuels, such as E30, as a way to expand the retail fuels infrastructure and support the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
In addition to passing the resolution, the National Farmers Union filed legal comments regarding EPA’s overreach in its interpretation of the Clean Air Act (CAA), which limits ethanol content to 15 percent. Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union, called on EPA and all government regulators to reverse statements and policies that unfairly limit the amount of ethanol in fuel and stated that both the state and national organization continue to seek greater market access for higher blended fuels.
On March 2, 2017, Congressmen Adrian Smith (R-NE) and Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-IA) reintroduced legislation to expand the current Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) waiver to include E15 motor vehicle fuel. The Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act aims to foster the development of a robust energy marketplace by offering the same regulatory relief that has been extended to E10. Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to control the volatility of gasoline between June 1 and September 15 to limit vehicle emissions. Congress permitted a RVP waiver for E10 due to its reduced emissions. EPA, however, has continuously refused to extend the waiver to E15 despite its lower volatility compared to E10. The bipartisan legislation would remove the restriction on the sale of E15 during the summer months and allow the fuel to be sold year-round.
On March 6, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in the Federal Register that an information collection request (ICR) had been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding consultations on the Safer Choice logo redesign. Following the launch of the new Safer Choice logo, EPA plans to conduct consumer surveys to gauge consumer recognition of the new logo and to determine whether the new logo and educational activities are changing purchasing decisions. This ICR was previously published as part of a public review opportunity in the Federal Register on November 3, 2016, and did not receive any comments. With this Notice, there will be an additional 30 days of review as comments are due by April 5, 2017.
On February 23, 2017, the Sierra Club filed a notice of intent to sue EPA for failure to conduct the required environmental impact analysis on the RFS program
. The notice states that EPA failed to assess and report to Congress on the environmental and resource conservation impacts of the RFS program and failed to complete the required anti-backsliding study to determine whether the renewable fuel volumes adversely impacted air quality. According to the notice, EPA has issued only one triennial report on the environmental impact of the program despite the requirement under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) that EPA report to Congress every three years. EISA also mandates that EPA complete an anti-backsliding study within 18 months of the law’s passage, which EPA has failed to conduct. Although EPA has made commitments to complete the second triennial report by December 31, 2017
, and the anti-backsliding study by September 30, 2024
, the Sierra Club stated that such a delay disregards the purpose of the reporting requirements, which is to inform EPA’s annual RFS volume developments and inform Congress of the program’s impacts.
On February 16, 2017, a coalition of Iowa farmers, renewable fuel producers, and retailers urged Scott Pruitt, just prior to his being confirmed as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, to protect the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) by rejecting the petition to change the program’s point of obligation. The coalition, which includes the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA), the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA), Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores of Iowa (PMCI), and the Iowa Biodiesel Board (IBB), stated that it is committed to opposing a change in the point of obligation since such a change would be devastating to wholesalers and retailers, who have invested in supporting the RFS program, and to consumers, who would experience a change in pricing dynamics at fuel terminals. Agreeing with EPA’s decision under the Obama Administration, the coalition stated that changing the point of obligation 11 years into the program would create unnecessary chaos and delay. A final decision will be made once EPA has reviewed the public comments on the issue.
On January 31, 2017, two bills were introduced in the U.S. Congress that propose to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the national biofuels mandate. The first bill would require the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to assess the performance, safety, and environmental impact of mid-level ethanol, and the implications of the use of mid-level ethanol blends compared to gasoline blends containing ten percent or less ethanol. The second bill would reduce the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) cellulosic biofuel volume requirements under the RFS program to what is commercially available pending a NAS report on the environmental and economic impacts and feasibility of large scale production of cellulosic biofuel.