While in Brazil last week, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz stressed the importance of biofuels as part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To this end, Secretary Moniz called for greater partnership between the U.S. and Brazil on biofuels. Significantly, it was reported that Secretary Moniz stated that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority and ability, and will continue to consider imports when EPA sets the annual renewable volume obligations (RVO) under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). This statement is important and signifies that EPA could continue to allow imported Brazilian sugarcane ethanol to meet annual RFS requirements.
As we recently reported, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Export Green Initiative continues plans for an upcoming trip to Brazil September 30-October 2, 2013, to encourage an increased relationship between that country and the U.S. on biofuels. Representatives from the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), the trade association representing the Brazilian sugarcane industry (UNICA), and the Advanced Biofuels Association, along with 15 companies that produce biofuels in the U.S., are expected to attend the trip. More information is available online.
Last week, a professor from Purdue University, Wallace Tyner, published an article concluding that EPA should reduce the overall and advanced RVOs under the RFS in years 2014-2016 to make the policy "workable." As we have reported, earlier this month, EPA released its final rule setting the 2013 RFS, in which the Agency included language indicating that it will likely reduce the overall and advanced RVOs for 2014 in that upcoming rulemaking. Tyner's article, which can be found online, illustrates that it is not possible to meet the mandated RFS RVOs in 2014-2016 due to constraints imposed by the impending "blend wall." Based on this, Tyner concludes that EPA must reduce both the overall and advanced RVOs for those years to continue to make the RFS a "workable" policy.
This article is significant for several reasons. Purdue is considered a leading pro-biofuels academic voice on biofuels policy and the RFS. In addition, as Tyner points out in the article, the recommended reductions would represent a marked shift in the way EPA implements the RFS. To date, while EPA annually has reduced the cellulosic RVOs, it has maintained the levels for the overall and advanced RVOs contained in the RFS law, allowing those gallons to make up for the reduced cellulosic gallons. Reducing the overall and advanced gallons in future years would represent that those gallons are no longer expected to be able to make up the shortfall in cellulosic biofuels, due in part to restraints caused by the impending "blend wall."
In a letter from Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to Attorney General Eric Holder and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Edith Ramirez, the Senators have requested that the U.S. Department of Justice and the FTC investigate the efforts of the oil companies to block market access of renewable fuels in violation of the Sherman Act and the Gasohol Competition Act of 1980, which prohibits discrimination or unreasonable limits against the sale of gasoline or other synthetic motor fuels. A copy of the letter is available online.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it will, for the first time, use its Feedstock Flexibility Program to help restore U.S. sugar prices at or above specific levels. Under the program, U.S. sugar producers may sell their sugar to USDA, which then plans to sell it to biofuels producers. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, USDA is required to keep U.S. sugar at prices at or above certain levels. This year's prices have been low.
On August 15, 2013, USDA announced funding under its Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) for 631 energy efficiency and renewable energy projects throughout the country. About $400,000 will go to 13 projects designed to install blender pumps in gas stations, which will allow for the greater distribution of higher blends of ethanol, including E85 fuel. The ethanol industry has been calling for greater federal help on blender pumps to allow for greater distribution of E85, which can help alleviate the impending "blend wall."
This week, it is reported that shareholders of leading U.S. cellulosic biofuels company, KiOR, sued the company, its Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Financial Officer, alleging that they reported misleading information on production projections, which artificially inflated the stock price paid. Last year, the company completed construction of its biorefinery in Columbus, Mississippi, which has the capacity to produce up to 13 million gallons per year of cellulosic biofuels made from woody biomass. The company stated that it expected to ship its first commercial quantities of the fuel last fall, but did not do so until June 2013. In addition, the quantity shipped reportedly was less than the company projected in public statements.
This lawsuit comes at a time when the oil industry has repeatedly criticized EPA for setting its annual mandated cellulosic RVOs under the federal RFS too high compared to the actual available supply of that fuel. EPA just issued its 2013 cellulosic RVO at 6 million gallons, the majority of which EPA expects to be met by supply from KiOR, based in part on stated expectations of the company.
On August 12, 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its "World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates" report in which it projects the U.S. will produce a record 13.76 billion bushels of corn in 2013. The report is available online.
Representatives from ethanol trade groups Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) praised the news and argued that it showed the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was not contributing to higher food prices and that it "should be the last nail in the coffin of the ridiculous 'food versus fuel' argument." RFA's press release is available online.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) this week launched its second ad in selected markets against the federal RFS. The ad is being aired in California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. It comes just after EPA issued its final 2013 RFS rule (more information is available online), and as the House Energy & Commerce Committee leadership is working on potential modifications to the RFS (more information is available online). The ad continues the message of the refining industry that the RFS mandates "unworkable" volumes of renewable fuel in the U.S. fuel supply. The renewable fuel industry continues to argue that the RFS law contains sufficient flexibility to account for changes in the market. The industry points to the final 2013 RFS rule to illustrate this, as EPA significantly lowered the cellulosic volumes to adjust for market realities.
Also this week, API and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) jointly petitioned EPA to lower its 2014 total ethanol requirements to 9.7 percent of total gasoline supply in the country. This request follows language in EPA's final 2013 RFS rule suggesting that the Agency is considering lowering renewable fuels obligations to help account for the impending blend wall in its upcoming 2014 rule. API and AFPM argue that lowering the 2014 renewable volume obligations would reduce the cost burden of the RFS to the refining industry.
Beta Renewables, a joint venture between chemical company Gruppo Mossi & Ghisolfi and investment company TPG, announced that it had begun commercial production at its cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino, Italy, at a price competitive with corn ethanol and gasoline. Novozymes, the leading producer of enzymes used for biofuels production, has invested in Beta Renewables. Beta Renewables expects to export the technology to develop about 20 new plants by 2017.
On August 8, 2013, the Fifth District Court of Appeals denied a petition from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for a rehearing of the case in which the court found on July 15, 2013, that CARB had improperly approved California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) in violation of administrative procedures (more information is available online). The July 15 decision stands and while CARB may continue to implement the LCFS, it must hold a new 45-day public comment period to receive input on the LCFS regulations, including CARB's calculation of indirect land use from the increased use of biofuels.