Last week, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke at a biofuel industry conference and addressed concerns raised over the likelihood that the final 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) rule would include renewable volume obligations (RVO) for total renewable fuel at levels below those included for 2014 under the statute. Generally, total renewable RVOs are comprised of corn-starch ethanol.
Secretary Vilsack projected a positive spin on this likelihood, reportedly telling the audience that the Obama Administration remains committed to working with the biofuels industry to get to 15 billion gallons of ethanol. The RFS would require the use of 15 billion gallons of total renewable fuel by 2022. It is generally predicted that the final 2014 RFS rule will raise the RVO levels for total renewable fuels over those contained in the proposed rule issued last year. RFS supporters in the biofuels industry, however, particularly those representing the corn ethanol industry, remain concerned that the reasoning behind final total renewable fuel RVOs will still be based partly on blend wall concerns argued by obligated parties and opponents to the law.
On September 18, 2014, Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA is investing $68 million in 540 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide. This is the most recent in a series of USDA actions designed to help strengthen the country's energy sector. The funding is available through the USDA Rural Development's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). REAP was created by the 2008 Farm Bill and was reauthorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. For more information, go online.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has guaranteed a $105 million loan through Bank of America, N.A. to help Fulcrum Sierra Biofuels build a plant in McCarran, Nevada that would convert municipal waste into renewable jet fuel. The total project cost is expected to be $266 million and the plant is predicted to produce 11 million gallons of fuel per year. This loan was guaranteed as part of the Biorefinery Assistance Program that is included in the Farm Bill. The biorefineries are expected to reduce dependence on foreign oil, improve the environment by reducing greenhouse gas, and strengthen local economies. More information on this loan guarantee is available online.
On August 19, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the Agency is investing $25 million to support 247 businesses throughout the country under the Value-Added Producer Grant program (the program). The program was reauthorized under the 2014 Farm Bill. It is designed to "[help] agricultural producers grow their businesses by turning raw commodities into value-added products, expanding marketing opportunities and developing new uses for existing products." According to USDA's press release on the announcement, the program may be used for various purposes, including helping to grow the bioeconomy.
In fact, two of the grants will directly support further development of bioproducts. In South Carolina, ATP-SC, LLC will receive $200,000 to be used to "process various bio-crops, using Torre faction and related processes, turning them into a feedstock from which various bio-products can be made." And in Tennessee, Stony Creek Colors, Inc. will receive $199,987 to "be used as working capital for the recipient's bio-based textile colorants from farm-grown natural dye crops business."
A copy of USDA's press release, which includes a link to the full list of program recipients, is available online.
On August 1, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a final rule on "Guidelines for Designating Biobased Products for Federal Procurement." A copy of the rule is available online. The rule is effective on September 2, 2014.
Under the rule, wood products will become eligible under USDA's BioPreferred Program, which was created under the 2002 Farm Bill. The rule removes language that excluded mature markets from the program. This change will open up the program to the pulp and paper industry. In a public statement, the President and CEO of the American Forest and Paper Association called the rule a "step in the right direction."
USDA is expected to issue guidance next month on how wood products may be eligible under the BioPreferred Program.
DOE will reportedly join the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) "Farm to Fly" initiative to help promote the development and use of sustainable aviation biofuels. Under the initiative, USDA, Boeing, and the Air Transport Association of America are working together to accelerate the availability of commercially viable and sustainable aviation biofuels in the United States to increase domestic energy security, establish regional supply chains, and support rural development. The initiative was renewed in 2013 for another five years. More information on the "Farm to Fly" program is available online.
On July 31, 2014, USDA issued a report on greenhouse gases. According to USDA's press release, the Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Agriculture and Forestry: Methods for Entity-Scale Inventory report "for the first time, provides uniform scientific methods for quantifying the changes in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and carbon storage from various land management and conservation activities." A copy of the report is available online.
On July 15, 2014, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced grant awards to support the development of wood energy projects. According to the press release, the federal funds will leverage more than $4.5 million in investments from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partners. Under the terms of the agreements, private, state, and federal organizations will work together to stimulate the development of additional wood energy projects in their states. Activities may include workshops that provide technical, financial, and environmental information, preliminary engineering assessments, and community outreach needed to support development of wood energy projects. The press release is available online.
Barnhardt Manufacturing Company has earned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Biobased Product Label for its High Q® Cotton. The USDA Certified Biobased Product Label verifies that the product's amount of renewable biobased ingredients meets or exceeds levels set by USDA.
On Friday, May 23, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its semi-annual regulatory agenda (Agenda) indicating its intended actions and priorities for the remainder of the year. A copy of USDA's Agenda is available online.
According to the Agenda, USDA intends to issue its final rule addressing how its BioPreferred® Program will designate complex products and intermediate materials and feedstocks in July 2014. USDA published its proposed rule on this matter in the Federal Register on May 1, 2012, and accepted public comment until July 2, 2012. A copy of the proposed rule is available online.