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.
On December 9, 2013, 60 companies sent a letter to the leaders of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee and U.S. Senate Committee on Finance urging them to extend various biofuels incentives. These incentives, including the $1.00 per gallon credit for biodiesel, are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. While industry was able to secure extension of these incentives last year in legislation to prevent the "fiscal cliff," the prognosis for similar success is diminished in light of the current comprehensive tax reform effort. The companies are against any proposal that would allow the biofuels tax credits to expire with the intent that they will be included in broader tax reform.
This week, the Associated Press published an article titled "The Secret, Dirty Cost of Obama's Green Power Push," which has drawn strong criticism from U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and several trade groups representing farmers and the ethanol industry, including the National Farmer's Union (NFU), Growth Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, and the Advanced Ethanol Council.
In the article, the AP links increased ethanol production since the enhanced Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was signed into law in 2007 to reduce acres of land under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). It features interviews with Iowa farmers, including one who claims his words were misconstrued. It is reported that NFU President Roger Johnson points out that the story "neglects to mention…that Congress reduced CRP by roughly seven million acres in the 2008 Farm Bill and is poised to be reduced by seven to eight million acres in the next farm bill." Also, Secretary Vilsack has made public statements calling the story "unfortunate" and pointing out that there are additional conservation programs beyond the CRP.
On November 8, 2013, Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA) sent a letter to President Obama stating that he is "angered and frustrated" that EPA is considering reducing renewable volume obligations (RVO) as part of its current rulemaking process to set the 2014 RVOs under the federal RFS. He further urges President Obama and his Administration to reconsider such reductions and points out that reductions like those contained in a recently leaked draft of the 2014 RFS proposed rule would harm economies throughout the Midwest and would damage the country's biofuel infrastructure. The sentiments in the letter are similar to ones expressed recently by many representing the biofuels industry.
The oil industry generally has urged EPA to make the kind of reductions to the 2014 RVOs as contained in the leaked draft proposed rule.
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.
On November 7, 2013, cellulosic biofuels producer KiOR, Inc. (KiOR) released its third quarter results. The company reported that its Columbus facility began a run in September, and is now producing cellulosic biofuels steadily and at record rates. This is significant news in the biofuels industry, as KiOR is one of the leading companies expected to contribute to the cellulosic volume availability under the RFS in 2013. A copy of the company's press release may be found online.
On October 30, 2013, Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Peter Welch (R-VT), and Steve Womack (R-AR) sent a letter signed by 169 Members of Congress to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy urging EPA to use its authority to reduce the 2014 statutory renewable volume obligations (RVO) for all types of biofuels, including conventional corn starch ethanol under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). A copy of the letter is available online.
The arguments made in the letter echo those put forth by the oil and gas industry and assert that the 2014 RVO reductions are needed to protect against corn price volatility and the E10 ethanol blend wall.
The letter comes at a crucial time in RFS advocacy. The oil and gas industry is leading the effort to repeal or weaken the RFS through regulatory, legal, and legislative channels, while the biofuels industry is fighting to maintain the policy, arguing that it is the fundamental driver of investment in the industry and that it provides EPA sufficient regulatory flexibility to make all necessary adjustments in its implementation. Further, the biofuels industry notes that no reductions in the conventional RVOs are needed as the RFS has minimal impact on corn prices and there are sufficient mechanisms for 2014 compliance. In addition, many in the biofuels industry argue that the concerns about the E10 blend wall are misplaced, as it exists because the oil and gas industry has refused to make or encourage the necessary investments to enable additional ethanol to be blended into the fuel supply.
A copy of Growth Energy's press release and the Renewable Fuels Association's (RFA) statement on the letter are available online and online.
On November 1, 2013, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), Growth Energy, and RFA filed a motion to intervene on behalf of EPA in the current lawsuit by Monroe Energy, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) challenging EPA's final rule establishing the 2013 RVOs under the federal RFS. The filing was made in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where the case is pending. Copies of press releases issued by BIO, Growth Energy, and RFA are available online.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released an advice memorandum from the agency's Office of Chief Counsel determining that "y electing the § 6426(c) excise tax credit [biodiesel mixture credit] and/or the § 6427(e) excise tax payment instead of the § 40A income tax credit, a blender is not required by § 87 or by § 61 to include in its gross income the amount of the § 6426(c) excise tax credits and/or the § 6427(e) payments that it claims." A copy of the memorandum is available online.
On October 30, 2013, the Conference Committee selected to merge the House and Senate versions of the next five-year Farm Bill met to begin formal negotiations. This Farm Bill Conference Committee is comprised of 41 bi-partisan Members of the U.S. House and Senate.
Though Farm Bill Conference Committee negotiations are expected to be difficult, pressure is on Members of Congress to pass a final version of the next five-year bill by the end of this year. If it fails to do so, farm policy will be governed by an outdated supply-side permanent law from 1949. In that situation, milk prices would be expected to increase sharply, among other things. In addition, the old law includes nothing to cover or help promote renewable energy, including biofuels and renewable chemicals.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the next five-year Farm Bill, S. 954, including funding for farm, nutrition, and energy programs. Importantly, the Senate bill continues and provides mandatory funding for existing Farm Bill energy programs and extends eligibility to renewable chemicals. It includes $4 billion in cuts to nutrition programs. After failing to pass a combined bill, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a "farm-only" bill this summer and then a separate "nutrition-only" bill cutting $40 billion in food stamps. The House farm-only Farm Bill contains an energy title without mandatory funding that will instead be subject to annual appropriations, and it does not extend the energy programs to renewable chemicals.
The biofuels and renewable chemicals industries continue efforts to gain support for an energy title that would support their development and include mandatory funding in the final version of the next Farm Bill.