There have been several efforts in the last few weeks to convince the Obama Administration to reconsider its proposal to reduce the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) statutory renewable volume obligations (RVO) for advanced and total renewable (corn ethanol) biofuels, and to maintain in 2014 and 2015 the status quo for biodiesel. Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) are expected to introduce a bill in the coming weeks, which would amend the RFS and reduce its corn ethanol targets.
On December 18, a group of 16 Senators met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to urge EPA to maintain the statutory 2014 RFS RVOs for advanced and total renewable fuels. They argued that the proposed reductions are unnecessary given expected production and that they would harm their respective state economies and the energy diversity and security of the United States. On the same day, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), who had attended the meeting, sent a letter to Administrator McCarthy expressing her concerns about EPA's RFS proposed rule. A copy of the letter is available online.
Also on December 18, 2013, 54 Members of the House of Representatives from 24 states sent a letter to the leaders of the EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Office of Management and Budget urging that the RFS final rule increase the required volumes of biodiesel. A copy of the letter is available online.
On December 20, 2013, the Governors of six Midwestern states sent a letter to President Obama expressing their concerns about the RFS proposed rule. They also urged the Administration to maintain the statutory RFS RVOs for total renewable fuel and raise the biodiesel requirements for 2014 and 2015. A copy of the letter is available online.
This week, three Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), Senators David Vitter (R-LA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and James Inhofe (R-OK), introduced the General Duty Clarification Act of 2013. The bill would direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clarify standards for the Clean Air Act's General Duty Clause. EPA has used the ambiguity contained in the clause to regulate chemical plants. A copy of the bill is available online.
All sides of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) debate had another chance to air their views on Wednesday at the Senate EPW Committee "Oversight Hearing on Domestic Renewable Fuels." Hearing details are available online.
Witnesses included representatives from EPA, DOE, industry, and major trade associations representing the oil and gas and biofuels industries. Their testimony was consistent with their previous actions and statements. For instance, EPA testified in support of its 2014 proposed RFS rule, which for the first time would reduce volumetric targets for all biofuels, including corn ethanol. The biofuels industry argued that the volumetric reductions in the proposed rule go too far, and that Congress should maintain the current version of the RFS law. In contrast, the oil and gas industry advocated that Congress act to repeal the RFS law.
EPW Committee Members weighed in with their divergent views during their opening remarks and throughout the hearing. For instance, Committee Chair Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) stated that she sees no need for Congress to act given the inherent regulatory flexibility contained in the existing law, and since EPA has sought to address industry concerns about the blend wall in the proposed rule. On the other end of the spectrum, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) stated that EPA's action demonstrates that the RFS is not working and that Congress should act to repeal it.
On November 27, 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published in the Federal Register a notice on "Draft Guidelines; Product Environmental Performance Standards and Ecolabels for Voluntary Use in Federal Procurement; Notice of Availability and Request for Comments." A copy of the notice is available online. Comments are due by February 25, 2014.
According to EPA, the Agency intends for the guidelines to "provide a transparent, fair, and consistent approach to using non-governmental product environmental performance standards and ecolabels in Federal purchasing, consistent with Federal standards policy and sustainable acquisition mandates... Voluntary guidelines for standards and ecolabels would help agencies implement sustainable acquisition requirements of Executive Order 13514 and the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 23.103 which requires 95% of the government's applicable contract actions to be sustainable. Specifically, the Guidelines for standards and ecolabels could provide clarity regarding the term 'environmentally preferable' for purposes of the Executive Order. In addition to seeking input on the draft Guidelines themselves, EPA is seeking input on how standards and ecolabels should be assessed for conformance to such guidelines."
On December 4, 2013, EPA published a final rule requiring the electronic submission of certain documents under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). EPA is promulgating amendments to reporting requirements under TSCA Section 4 (including test rules and Enforceable Consent Agreements (ECA)), TSCA Section 5, TSCA Section 8(a) Preliminary Analysis Information Rule (PAIR) at 40 C.F.R. Part 712, and TSCA Section 8(d) Health and Safety Data Reporting Rules at 40 C.F.R. Part 716. A copy of the rule, including a more detailed description of the new reporting requirements, is available online. The rule will become effective on March 4, 2014.
On November 26, 2013, the Obama Administration released its biannual regulatory agenda for all federal agencies. A copy of the agenda is available online. EPA listed several top regulatory priorities, including "taking actions on toxics and chemical safety." The Agency states that it intends to take actions to protect chemical facility safety and security and that it "plans to take a range of identified regulatory actions for certain chemicals and assess other chemicals to determine if risk reduction action is needed to address potential concerns." EPA also lists in the agenda several specific upcoming final regulatory actions it intends to take, including:
• Issuing the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) rule, expected by February 2014; and
• Issuing additional RFS pathways.
EPA has requested a report from the National Academies Committee (the Committee) on options that governments, manufacturers, and retailers can use to compare the safety of various chemicals as they analyze potential substitutes for those chemicals. The report is expected early in 2014. During the initial meeting of the Committee last month, a representative from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported that an OECD committee has identified more than 80 methods for selecting safer chemicals. OECD also intends to release a report identifying them early next year.
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.
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.
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."