By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
On October 2, 2019, the Governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, announced that applications are now open for all 15 seats on the Governor’s Biofuels Council. Established in September 2019 by Governor Walz, the Governor’s Biofuels Council advises the Governor and cabinet on how best to support Minnesota’s biofuels industry. Council members will include representatives of agriculture, biofuels, and transportation industries and environmental and conservation groups. The Governor’s Biofuels Council is tasked with creating a report to advise the Governor and cabinet on the best methods to expand the use of biofuels, increase the carbon efficiency of biofuels, and implement biofuels as part of Minnesota’s larger goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) production in the transportation sector. Under Governor Walz’s September 16, 2019, Executive Order, the Governor’s Biofuels Council must complete the report by November 2020. Thus far, 30 individuals have applied, and Governor Walz encourages “Minnesotans in every corner of the state to apply and share their expertise on this critical issue.” Interested parties can access the application here.
- WTVB News, “Trump Meets with Senators from Key Farm States, Touts Biofuel Deal Progress”
- Market Realist, “Big Biofuels Issue: Trump Meets with Refiners, Senators”
- Cornell Alliance for Science, “Plant Breeding Innovations Required to Weather Climate Change, Report Says”
- Global News Canada, “Burnaby Becomes Latest B.C. City to Declare a Climate Emergency”
- just-food, “Danone-Backed Meat-Analogue Business Sustainable Bioproducts Eyes Launch”
- CBS Minnesota, “Governor Walz Establishes Biofuels Council”
- Los Angeles Times, “California Lawmakers Fail to Act on Recycling Bills to Phase Out Single-Use Plastics”
- Fast Company, “It’s Now Cheaper to Build New Renewables Than It Is to Build Natural Gas Plants”
- Reuters, “Trump Backs Plan That Would Boost Biofuel Quotas 10% in 2020”
- Reuters, “Facing Farmer Anger, Trump Scrambles Cabinet to Brainstorm on Biofuel Policy: Sources”
- Cosmeticsdesign.com, “Sulapac: The Startup Making Biodegradable, Plastic-Free Beauty Packaging a Reality”
- The Times, “EU Curbs Used Cooking Oil in Biodiesel Due to Fears of Fraud”
- Plastics News, “Resin Distributors Taking Different Paths to Sustainability”
- Engineering.com, “Algae Filter Paper Offers New Hope for Stopping Waterborne Illness”
- The Gazette, “Amy Klobuchar: Trump Treating Farmers Like ‘Bargaining Chips’”
- Forbes, “Boston Startup Puts a New Spin on Silk, Replacing Petrochemicals in Clothing and Skincare”
- The Asahi Shimbun, “Rain-Resistant Wheat Variety Developed Using Genome Editing”
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On August 21, 2019, Iowa Democratic Representative Cindy Axne asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Inspector General (IG) to investigate how EPA decided to grant the exemptions from the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requested by oil refiners. EPA approved 31 petitions for waivers from the 2018 requirements. Lawmakers are not pleased at what appears to be EPA favoring the oil industry. Hence, Representative Axne’s call for an IG investigation into how EPA decided to expand the number of waivers it issued since President Trump came into office. Representative Axne held a press conference on August 21, 2019, at Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy, an ethanol producer in Iowa. This is the same plant where Trump touted his action expanding sales of 15 percent ethanol.
According to Reuters, Trump is seeking to mollify corn farmers who are incensed over the exemptions. He personally approved EPA’s decision to go ahead with the waivers, but in a cabinet meeting, Trump told his staff to figure out a way to pacify the farmers. Alarmingly, and according to a refinery industry source, the President also asked EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler if he could take the exemptions back; he was told he could not.
Citing data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), EPA stated the United States had been setting records for both ethanol production and exports. “There is zero evidence that EPA’s Congressionally mandated small refinery exemption program, which provides regulatory relief to small refineries around the country, has had any negative impact on domestic corn ethanol producers,” EPA said in a statement. Nonetheless, POET, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, has idled an Indiana plant due to the waivers. “Our industry invested billions of dollars based on the belief that oil could not restrict access to the market and EPA would stand behind the intent of the Renewable Fuel Standard,” POET CEO Jeff Broin said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the oil industry is manipulating the EPA and is now using the RFS to destroy demand for biofuels.”
- Redshift, “Bamboo Transcends the Tropics for Carbon-Negative Construction”
- New Age, “Trump’s EPA Grants 31 Refinery Waivers from Biofuel Laws, Angering Corn Lobby”
- Plastemart.com, “New Bio-Based Thermoplastic Adhesive for the Bonding of Compostable Plastic Coating”
- AgWeek, “EPA Official Talks about Future of Biofuels and Carbon Sequestration”
- FoodBev Media, “Unilever Debuts Magnum Tubs Created from Recycled Plastic”
- Tech Explorist, “Solar Energy Turns into Biofuel without Solar Cells”
- Fast Company, “This Startup Created Compostable Plastic Wrap That’s Made from Shellfish Shells”
- newsnow, “New Zealand’s Gene Editing Laws Need an Overhaul, Country’s Top Scientific Body Says”
- Food Processing, “USDA Mulls Organic Gene-Altered Crops”
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
On July 26, 2019, U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) announced that he is working with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on the Restore Environmental Sustainability to Our Renewable Energy (RESTORE) Act. In an effort to end what Toomey describes as an “egregious form of corporate welfare that hurts the environment and drives up the cost of everything,” the RESTORE Act would abolish the corn ethanol mandate under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Toomey further argues that, because the RFS forces drivers to purchase billions of gallons of corn ethanol annually, it also harms the environment and causes prices to rise, not only of gasoline, but also of damaged engines and groceries. Calling for a phaseout of the ethanol mandate, the RESTORE Act focuses on transitioning to advanced, lower carbon fuels for the country’s transportation needs.
The RESTORE Act is not Toomey’s and Feinstein’s first attempt to abolish the corn ethanol mandate. In 2015, Feinstein and Toomey offered an amendment to the Keystone pipeline bill that would have repealed the corn ethanol mandate under RFS: the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2015. This Feinstein-Toomey amendment suggested the same modifications the RESTORE Act now proposes and the language used to describe the need for these changes is similar in both Toomey’s July 2019 and Feinstein’s 2015 announcements. Using the exact same arguments that were used in 2015, the RESTORE Act demonstrates Toomey and Feinstein’s determination to abolish the corn ethanol mandate.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On August 6, 2019, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) announced four grants aiming to expand biofuel access and production to advance the state’s renewable energy efforts. Awarded to four recipients by MDA’s Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation (AGRI) Program, the grants total more than $500,000. One Bioenergy/Biochemical Pilot Project Grant was awarded, providing funding to advance bioenergy and biochemical production technology to a commercial scale. Three Biofuel Blending Infrastructure Grants were awarded to expand the use of blending infrastructure equipment in Minnesota.