API, AFPM, and ExxonMobil urged EPA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to eliminate the ability of biodiesel producers to sever RINs from batches of fuels produced as part of an upcoming final rule establishing a quality assurance program for the fuels credit market.
The rule, as proposed, would establish qualifications for third-party auditors who would determine the validity of the RINs. It would also establish audit procedures for renewable fuel production facilities, including minimum frequency, site visits, review of records, and reporting requirements. The rule is open for comment now, and EPA is requesting feedback on whether renewable fuel producers should be allowed to separate and sell their own RINs. The groups emphasized that allowing biodiesel producers to separate and sell fuel credits creates opportunities for fraud in the RIN market.
Biodiesel producers are authorized to sever RINs from fuel batches and sell them as credits to comply with the annual RFS blending mandates. This generates two revenue streams -- one from fuel sales, and another from RIN credit sales. This anomaly resulted from a settlement between 30 refiners and other companies and EPA in April 2013, where $3.65 million was paid to EPA in penalties for purchase of fraudulent credits. The National Biodiesel Board and the Renewable Energy Group emphasized that "[t]he biodiesel marketplace is not as mature as other biofuel markets" and "often the value of the RIN provides biodiesel producers with [their] only opportunity to create a margin."
On April 8, 2014, House Committee on Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp (R-MI) held a hearing on the "Benefits of Permanent Tax Policy for America's Job Creators." The hearing focused on the expiring business tax provisions that are made permanent or extended under Camp's recently released discussion draft of the "Tax Reform Act of 2014" (TRA). Unlike his Senate counterpart -- Senate Committee on Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) -- Camp is not very supportive of passing a tax extender package to extend retroactively the approximately 50 incentives that expired at the end of 2013, including several for advanced biofuels development. In fact, the TRA would eliminate most clean energy incentives. The House Ways and Means Hearing Advisory is available online.
Last week, the Senate Finance Committee approved its version of tax extender legislation, the "Expiring Provisions Improvement Reform and Efficiency (EXPIRE) Act." The EXPIRE Act includes extensions through December 31, 2015 (and retroactive to January 1, 2014) of the following key biofuels incentives that have expired: the Alternative Fuel Refueling Property Credit; the Second Generation Biofuel Producer Tax Credit; the Special Depreciation Allowance for Second Generation Biofuel Plant Property; the Biodiesel and Renewable Diesel Fuels Credit; and the Alternative Fuel and Alternative Fuel Mixture Excise Tax Credit. A copy of the EXPIRE Act is available online. A summary of the bill is available online.
Whether a tax extenders package will pass this year depends on several factors. It is likely to be more difficult to pass in the House of Representatives than in the Senate.
On February 13, 2014, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced S. 2021, a bill to extend and reform the $1 per-gallon biodiesel tax credit that expired on December 31, 2013. The bill would extend this credit for three years through 2017. It would provide a $1 per-gallon tax credit for the production of biodiesel, renewable diesel, and aviation jet fuel that complies with fuel standards and the Clean Air Act. The bill would modify the definition of biodiesel to encourage production from any biomass-based feedstock, or recycled oils and fats. It would increase the credit to $1.10 per-gallon for the first 15 million gallons of biodiesel produced by small producers with an annual production capacity of less than 60 million gallons. In addition, the bill would restrict the credit to fuel producers to ensure the credit goes to domestic biodiesel production and to prevent eligibility of fuel blenders that could potentially add a very small amount of biodiesel to petroleum diesel (a practice known as "splash and dash") to qualify.
This bill would likely be added to a larger tax extender package that new Senate Committee on Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) has said he is interested in moving through the Committee in the near future. It would be significant for the biodiesel industry, which produced .7 billion gallons more in 2013 when the biodiesel tax credit was available than in 2012 when Congress let the credit expire.
On January 22, 2014, there were reports of two explosions at the JNS Biodiesel LCC biodiesel plant in northern Mississippi. No one was injured. The plant is designed to use poultry fat as the feedstock to produce eight million gallons of biodiesel each year. The news comes as the biodiesel industry is advocating its potential production beyond EPA's proposed 2014 and 2015 requirements.
Several incentives designed to encourage renewable energy development and production, including the $1 per gallon tax credit for biodiesel producers and the $1.01 per gallon credit for cellulosic ethanol production, expired on December 31, 2013. Should extenders be considered, it is likely these two credits will be extended and likely retroactively. Although given election year politics and ongoing budget battles, if and when this happens is tougher to predict. In the short term, one legislative vehicle could be legislation to increase the debt limit expected to pass later this winter or early spring. Some argue Congress may not consider any tax extender package until later this year after the November elections.
The biofuels industry is working hard to press Congress quickly to take up and pass a tax extender package. The biodiesel and cellulosic producer tax credits are considered essential parts of the suite of current policies designed to promote the industry.
On Thursday, November 7, 2013, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released the Alternative Fueling Station Locator App for iPhone or iPad that provides up-to-date information to potential consumers on the closest fueling stations that offer various alternative fuels, including biodiesel (B20), compressed and liquefied natural gas, and ethanol (E85), among others. More information, including a link to the App, may be found on DOE's website.
This new App is a significant new tool in the effort to increase the amount of renewable fuels developed, distributed, and used in the United States.
Last week, federal securities regulators charged Imperial Petroleum, Inc. and its subsidiary, Indiana-based E-Biofuels LLC, with carrying out a fraudulent federal RFS renewable identification number (RIN) and tax credit scheme. It is alleged that from November 2009 to January 2012, this scheme generated 52 million fraudulent RIN credits and $35 million in false tax credits, and cost investors approximately $60 million. More information is available online.
This is the fourth major biodiesel RIN fraud case, but the industry's leading voice in Washington, D.C., the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), reportedly argues it should not change anything with respect to RFS RIN enforcement because the alleged illegal activities occurred before NBB and others worked with EPA on a new RIN enforcement proposal, which is expected to be promulgated this year.
This week, the National Advanced Biofuels Conference and Expo was held in Omaha, Nebraska. During the three-day conference, industry leaders presented on and discussed major issues facing the industry, from legal considerations to advancing the aviation biofuels industry, supply, and feedstock successes and challenges. During the conference, Michael McAdams, President of the Advanced Biofuels Association, and Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board, discussed some of their current federal policy priorities and work. Both spoke about the importance of the federal RFS to the industry and stressed the need for industry to unite at this time when it is increasingly under attack.
McAdams addressed the work this year of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to examine and reform the RFS. He mentioned that Committee's two-day hearing this summer on the subject during which he testified on the importance of the policy. He stated his expectation that legislation to reform the RFS could be drafted and considered by the House of Representatives by mid-October. He urged everyone to contact their Members of Congress on behalf of the RFS, if their trade associations asked them to do so.
Jobe made similarly supportive statements of the RFS and the need for the industry to unite. In addition, he stated the importance to the biodiesel industry of not only the RFS, but of maintaining the biodiesel tax credit. He attributed both policies to the industry's recent substantial growth, and cited them as important to achieving the industry's new goal of making up 10 billion gallons of the fuel supply by 2022.
Also during the conference, on behalf of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Rural Development Acting Under Secretary Doug O'Brien announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making payments to support the production of advanced biofuel. USDA is making nearly $15.5 million in payments to 188 producers through the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program. USDA remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. This announcement is one part of the Department's efforts to strengthen the rural economy. The funding is being provided through USDA's Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, which was established in the 2008 Farm Bill. Under this program, payments are made to eligible producers based on the amount of advanced biofuels produced from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch. Examples of eligible feedstocks include but are not limited to: crop residue; animal, food, and yard waste; vegetable oil; and animal fat. Through the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program and other USDA programs, USDA is working to support the research, investment, and infrastructure necessary to build a strong biofuels industry that creates jobs and broadens the range of feedstocks used to produce renewable fuel. More than 290 producers in 47 states and territories have received $211 million in payments since the program's inception. It has supported the production of more than three billion gallons of advanced biofuel and the equivalent of more than 36 billion kilowatt hours of electric energy.