By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) and Alberta Innovates are hosting SPARK 2017 to support game-changing solutions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and advance the bioindustrial sector. The conference will take place November 6-8, 2017, in Edmonton, Canada. SPARK 2017 aims to inspire, motivate, and support researchers and innovators by connecting them with others working to advance innovative technology across four key areas, including:
- Bioindustrial Development and Biological GHG Emissions;
- Industrial Processes and Energy Efficiency;
- Reducing GHG Footprint from Fossil Fuels; and
- Low-emitting Electricity Supply.
Abstract submissions are due by June 19, 2017.
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.
The Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference 2017 (ABLC 2017) will be held March 1 - 3, 2017, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. ABLC is the gathering point for top leaders in the Advanced Bioeconomy -- bringing together the entire spectrum of advanced fuels, chemicals, and materials chief executive officers (CEO) and senior executives, business developers, research and development (R&D) leaders, strategic partners, financiers, equity analysts, policymakers, and industry suppliers. Richard E. Engler, Ph.D., Senior Chemist for Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C ® ), and Kathleen M. Roberts, Executive Director of BRAG, are featured speakers. Register online.
ABLC 2017 is a connected series of five conferences on pressing issues in the Bioeconomy. These conferences are:
The 8th Annual Advanced Fuels Summit -- focused this year on Advanced Biomass Diesel and BioCrude, and Advanced Alcohols and Alternatives to gasoline;
The 7th Annual Renewable Chemicals Summit -- focused this year on Organic Acids and 1-Step to Higher Value Chemicals;
The 8th Annual Aviation Biofuels Summit;
The 3rd Annual ABLC Feedstocks Summit; and
The 1st ABLC Gas Conversion & Markets Summit.
On January 26, 2017, EPA published a final rule delaying the effective date of 30 EPA regulations, including the RFS Program: Standards for 2017 and Biomass-Based Diesel Volume for 2018 final rule. The rulemaking follows the Presidential directive to postpone for sixty days the effective dates of all regulations that had been published in the Federal Register but had not yet taken effect to give the President’s appointees or designees the opportunity for further review and consideration of new or pending regulations. The new effective date is March 21, 2017. More information on the RFS final rule is available in the BRAG blog post “EPA Publishes Final 2017 RFS Requirements.”
The biofuels industry is likely to face increasingly challenging times during the tenures of the new 115 th Congress -- which began on January 3 -- and the Trump Administration, scheduled to begin this Friday, January 20.
Throughout his campaign for President, Trump repeatedly pledged his support for biofuels and the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Indeed, it is this support that helped Trump win in key Midwestern battleground states, including Iowa. Despite this, Trump has nominated fossil fuel supporters and anti-biofuels advocates to three key Cabinet positions. His nominee for U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is the former CEO of Exxon Corporation. Exxon and other RFS-obligated parties have been actively fighting for the repeal of the RFS since 2012. The nominee to head the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), former Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry, has close ties with the fossil fuel sector, did not actively support the RFS during his two Presidential campaigns, and has in the past called for the elimination of the DOE, as well as mandates that “skew” the energy marketplace. In addition, Governor Perry petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2008 for a 50 percent waiver of the RFS requirements, which EPA denied. He has also taken positions against issue-specific tax incentives and any specific incentives for new energy development. Finally, Scott Pruitt is the nominee to lead EPA. In his current role as the Republican Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt has ties to fossil fuel groups and has sued EPA 19 times -- the very agency he is nominated to run -- over the RFS and the Clean Power Plan, among other major regulations under the purview of EPA.
On Wednesday, January 18, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held its hearing to consider the nomination of Pruitt to become the Administrator of EPA. Pruitt indicated in a meeting earlier this month and during his nomination hearing before the EPW Committee that, as EPA Administrator, he would administer the RFS law as Congress intended.
On January 5, several U.S. Senators from Midwestern states met with Pruitt to discuss their concerns over his criticism of the RFS, among other policies. Reportedly, these Senators emerged from the meeting reassured that Pruitt would follow the RFS law. The RFS law, however, provides the EPA Administrator discretion in his implementation of the law. For instance, one potential change to the regulations implementing the RFS currently being considered and on which public comment is being solicited is whether to change the point of obligation under the RFS, which would shift the obligated parties downstream to fuel marketers, including gas stations. Such regulatory changes to the implementation of the RFS law could have detrimental effects on its intended purpose to increase the volumes of biofuels that are blended and used in our nation’s fuel supply.
During Pruitt’s nomination hearing, he reiterated his commitment to implementing the RFS law as Congress intended, despite his past statements that the RFS law is “flawed” and “unworkable.” Pruitt explained that he believes that the EPA Administrator’s waiver authority under the RFS should be used “judiciously.” He suggested, however, that implementation of the RFS could be improved.
Generally, biofuels advocates have argued that there is no need for legislation to change -- and certainly not to repeal -- the RFS. While there still exists ardent RFS support in both Houses of Congress, biofuels advocates will likely face greater challenges to their efforts to prevent the passage of legislation that would alter or repeal the RFS, or to alter or repeal other existing biofuels incentives. For instance, at a recent hearing, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) voiced his ongoing disapproval of the military’s focus on developing and using alternative fuels since they have been more expensive than fossil fuels.