On March 12, 2014, Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), shared with his colleagues a vision plan that was developed to guide OCSPP's work over the next several years. The document, entitled Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Envisioning Accomplishments in 2017, outlines several actions that will be taken by OCSPP regarding pesticide registration, existing chemicals, the EDSP, creating a whole new Design for the Environment (DfE), and employing green solutions. Actions that will be taken in implementing OCSPP's vision are also outlined. Of particular note to biobased chemical producers and stakeholders, EPA "[w]ill have begun to look at additional elements of a chemical's life-cycle to factor into sustainability evaluations." This is yet another expression of commitment by EPA to ensuring sustainability is a component of all decisions at EPA. The document is available online.
On March 18, 2014, EPA issued a press release seeking nominations for EPA's Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards. Biobased chemical producers and stakeholders are urged to consider submitting a nomination, or at the least preparing to submit one for next year. The award is prestigious and well worth the time and effort it takes to submit a compelling nomination application. Nominations are due to the Agency by April 30, 2014. EPA's press release about the awards and entry process is available online.
On March 4, 2014, President Obama released his fiscal year (FY) 2015 Budget request, which includes aggressive proposed funding to carry out the Administration's Climate Action Plan designed to reduce harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the impacts of climate change. The President's FY 2015 Budget includes funding for several programs and initiatives to help facilitate the continued development and production of biofuels and biobased products. Consistent with the newly enacted Farm Bill, the Budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) includes increased funding for biobased product manufacturing. Given political realities and this midterm election year, it is not expected that the President's FY 2015 Budget Request will be enacted as proposed. It represents a starting point in the budget process, however, and indicates the Administration's priorities.
Here are highlights from the FY 2015 Budget proposal:
• U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): While the total budget request for EPA of $7.9 billion represents a decrease of $0.3 billion from last year, the cuts are mostly found within water infrastructure funds, with several programs seeing an increase over last year's levels. EPA's budget summary document notes that the Agency intends on evaluating its workforce and "identifying needed skills for a streamlined EPA." EPA's Appendix notes that under the "TSCA Confidential Business Information [CBI] Fund," the "Budget proposes to expand EPA's existing authority to collect fees to recover a portion of the costs of reviewing and maintaining the CBI."
• U.S. Department Of Energy (DOE): The FY 2015 Budget includes $27.9 billion for DOE, a 2.6 percent increase over FY 2014 enacted levels. This funding includes several programs designed to encourage and facilitate the development and production of advanced biofuels. For instance, the FY 2015 Budget would fund the DOE's:
o Bioenergy Technology Program At $253 Million: A $12 million decrease over FY 2014. This program funds research, development and demonstration (RD&D) projects to advance biofuels technologies and to validate and assist in the commercialization of integrated biorefinery technologies that will help transform the nation's transportation sector.
o Energy Security Trust At $2 Billion Over Ten Years: According to the DOE's FY 2015 Budget Appendix, this trust would be newly created to "support research into a range of technologies -- like advanced vehicles that run on electricity, homegrown biofuels, hydrogen, and domestically produced natural gas -- to allow the Nation to transition from oil towards more secure alternatives. The [t]rust will be funded from existing royalty revenues generated from [f]ederal oil and gas development. Establishing a guaranteed source of funding will allow the Department of Energy to maintain targeted and sustained investments that will directly advance U.S. energy security."
o Energy Efficiency And Renewable Energy At $2.3 Billion: An increase of approximately $0.2 billion over FY 2014. Under this program, DOE invests in the development of renewable generation technologies, sustainable transportation technologies, and advanced manufacturing technologies, as well as in improving energy efficiency in our homes, buildings and industries.
o Advanced Research Projects Agency At $325 Million: An increase of $76 million over FY 2014 levels. This program provides funding for research and development of transformational clean energy technologies.
• USDA: The FY 2015 Budget includes $23.7 billion in discretionary funding for USDA, a decrease of approximately $1 billion from FY 2014. The Budget provides for the USDA launch of three new multidisciplinary agricultural research institutes, one of which would be dedicated to advanced biobased manufacturing. It also includes the mandatory funding provided in the newly enacted Farm Bill for important energy programs designed to help encourage the production of biofuels and biobased chemicals. For instance, the FY 2015 USDA Budget Request provides funding for the:
o Biobased Markets Program At $3 Million In Mandatory Funding, the same level as FY 2014: The Biobased Markets (BioPreferred®) Program creates a procurement preference at federal agencies for biobased products.
o Biobased Research And Development Initiative At $3 Million In Mandatory Funding, a decrease of approximately $2 million from FY 2014: This program provides competitive funding for RD&D of technologies and processes leading to commercial production of biofuels and biobased products.
o Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) At $25 Million In Mandatory Funding: BCAP provides incentives to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to establish, cultivate and harvest eligible biomass for heat, power, biobased products, research, and advanced biofuels. Crop producers and bioenergy facilities can team together to submit proposals to USDA for selection as a BCAP project area.
o Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, And Biobased Manufacturing Assistance Program At $50 Million In Mandatory Funding, a decrease of $80 million from FY 2014: This program provides competitive loan guarantees and grants for the construction or retrofitting of demonstration-scale facilities for the commercial production of biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased products.
On March 3, 2014, EPA released its final rule on "Control of Air Pollution from Motor Vehicles: Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards" (the "Tier 3 rule"). A copy of the 1069-page Tier 3 rule is available online. A copy of EPA's five-page fact sheet on "EPA Sets Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards" is available online.
The Tier 3 rule is designed to reduce air pollution from passenger cars and trucks. Beginning in 2017, the Tier 3 rule will set new vehicle emissions standards and reduce the sulfur content of gasoline. It will treat the vehicle and its fuel as an integrated system. The final Tier 3 rule is very similar to the proposed version of the rule, although the final Tier 3 rule sets the ethanol content for emissions test gasoline at ten percent (E10) instead of at 15 percent (E15) as proposed.
The final Tier 3 rule is a part of the Obama Administration's efforts to combat the harmful impacts of climate change. It is expected to reduce several tons of harmful GHG emissions by 2030.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it has awarded more than $3 million in funding to four research institutions to study how chemicals behave when they come into contact with biological systems. The projects will focus on developing better models that predict the connection between exposures to chemicals and the chain of events that lead to an unwanted health effect. The results are expected to assist EPA in its mission to protect human health and the environment, to inform and impact EPA's chemical safety research, and to develop solutions for more sustainable chemicals and use computational science to understand the relationship between chemical exposures and health outcomes. A copy of EPA's press release is available online.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken two actions this month to update Design for the Environment's (DfE) Safer Chemical Ingredients List. On January 23, 2014, EPA announced that it is adding 50 chemicals to the list, "bringing the number of safer fragrance chemicals to 150 and the total number of safer chemicals to nearly 650." The list is available online.
On January 29, 2014, EPA announced that it has issued final DfE alternatives assessments for Decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE) and Bisphenol A (BPA). The 901 page report on alternatives for the flame retardant DecaBDE is available online, and the 519 page report on BPA alternatives is available online.
On December 19, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Janet McCabe to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation. She has been serving as Acting Assistant Administrator of the Air and Radiation Office since July when Gina McCarthy left to become EPA Administrator. McCabe is generally well-liked and respected, and she is expected to be confirmed without much opposition. McCabe is expected to face tough questions during her nomination hearing on several policies, including EPA efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
President Obama will need to re-nominate his choices to fill key positions at EPA and other agencies because of unsuccessful attempts to allow pending nominations -- including several that have already cleared the Senate EPW Committee -- to carry over to this year. Nominees affected include Ken Kopocis, who had been nominated to serve as EPA Assistant Administrator of Water.
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.