On March 28, 2014, Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Steve Womack (R-AR), and Peter Welch (D-VT) sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy with targeted questions related to the implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The four Members of Congress all believe the RFS is not working in its current form. Last fall, they introduced H.R. 1462, the "RFS Reform Act," which eliminates corn-based ethanol requirements, limits the amount of ethanol that can be blended into conventional gasoline at ten percent, and requires EPA to set accurately the annual cellulosic renewable volume obligations (RVO) at actual production levels.
In their letter, which followed a recent meeting with Administrator McCarthy, the Representatives reiterated their position that the RFS is not working given current market conditions. They also asked six questions to inquire about EPA's ability and willingness to reduce annual RVOs. A copy of the letter is available online.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that it will take approximately the next six months to evaluate and improve the petition process for new fuel pathways under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Every producer that wants their renewable fuel to qualify under the RFS must have its fuel pathway, including feedstock and technology process, approved by EPA. EPA intends to make the process more efficient and transparent, and thereby reduce the amount of time it takes to make determinations on new fuel pathway petitions. The Agency also intends to develop and issue improved guidance for petitioners, and to have a more automated review process for petitions using previously approved feedstocks and well known production process technologies.
EPA suggests that parties intending to submit new fuel pathway petitions wait to do so until after the Agency issues its new guidance. EPA will continue to review petitions currently under review, but will prioritize them based on the following criteria:
* Ability to contribute to the cellulosic biofuel mandate.
* Potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a per gallon basis, for example by using feedstocks that likely do not have significant indirect land use change emissions (such as non-food feedstocks).
* Ability to contribute to near-term increases in renewable fuel use. This criterion would include, for example, consideration of the ability of the intended biofuel product to be readily incorporated into the existing fuel distribution network.
This review comes after years of criticism that the petition process for new fuel pathway approvals under the RFS takes too long and impedes progress of projects that could produce fuels that meet the annual RFS volumetric requirements. Some companies have been waiting for over two years for EPA's determination on their petitions.
On March 12, 2014, Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), shared with his colleagues a vision plan that was developed to guide OCSPP's work over the next several years. The document, entitled Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Envisioning Accomplishments in 2017, outlines several actions that will be taken by OCSPP regarding pesticide registration, existing chemicals, the EDSP, creating a whole new Design for the Environment (DfE), and employing green solutions. Actions that will be taken in implementing OCSPP's vision are also outlined. Of particular note to biobased chemical producers and stakeholders, EPA "[w]ill have begun to look at additional elements of a chemical's life-cycle to factor into sustainability evaluations." This is yet another expression of commitment by EPA to ensuring sustainability is a component of all decisions at EPA. The document is available online.
On March 3, 2014, EPA released its final rule on "Control of Air Pollution from Motor Vehicles: Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards" (the "Tier 3 rule"). A copy of the 1069-page Tier 3 rule is available online. A copy of EPA's five-page fact sheet on "EPA Sets Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards" is available online.
The Tier 3 rule is designed to reduce air pollution from passenger cars and trucks. Beginning in 2017, the Tier 3 rule will set new vehicle emissions standards and reduce the sulfur content of gasoline. It will treat the vehicle and its fuel as an integrated system. The final Tier 3 rule is very similar to the proposed version of the rule, although the final Tier 3 rule sets the ethanol content for emissions test gasoline at ten percent (E10) instead of at 15 percent (E15) as proposed.
The final Tier 3 rule is a part of the Obama Administration's efforts to combat the harmful impacts of climate change. It is expected to reduce several tons of harmful GHG emissions by 2030.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it has awarded more than $3 million in funding to four research institutions to study how chemicals behave when they come into contact with biological systems. The projects will focus on developing better models that predict the connection between exposures to chemicals and the chain of events that lead to an unwanted health effect. The results are expected to assist EPA in its mission to protect human health and the environment, to inform and impact EPA's chemical safety research, and to develop solutions for more sustainable chemicals and use computational science to understand the relationship between chemical exposures and health outcomes. A copy of EPA's press release is available online.
On December 19, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Janet McCabe to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation. She has been serving as Acting Assistant Administrator of the Air and Radiation Office since July when Gina McCarthy left to become EPA Administrator. McCabe is generally well-liked and respected, and she is expected to be confirmed without much opposition. McCabe is expected to face tough questions during her nomination hearing on several policies, including EPA efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
President Obama will need to re-nominate his choices to fill key positions at EPA and other agencies because of unsuccessful attempts to allow pending nominations -- including several that have already cleared the Senate EPW Committee -- to carry over to this year. Nominees affected include Ken Kopocis, who had been nominated to serve as EPA Assistant Administrator of Water.
This week, three Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), Senators David Vitter (R-LA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and James Inhofe (R-OK), introduced the General Duty Clarification Act of 2013. The bill would direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clarify standards for the Clean Air Act's General Duty Clause. EPA has used the ambiguity contained in the clause to regulate chemical plants. A copy of the bill is available online.
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 4, 2013, EPA published a final rule requiring the electronic submission of certain documents under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). EPA is promulgating amendments to reporting requirements under TSCA Section 4 (including test rules and Enforceable Consent Agreements (ECA)), TSCA Section 5, TSCA Section 8(a) Preliminary Analysis Information Rule (PAIR) at 40 C.F.R. Part 712, and TSCA Section 8(d) Health and Safety Data Reporting Rules at 40 C.F.R. Part 716. A copy of the rule, including a more detailed description of the new reporting requirements, is available online. The rule will become effective on March 4, 2014.
On November 26, 2013, the Obama Administration released its biannual regulatory agenda for all federal agencies. A copy of the agenda is available online. EPA listed several top regulatory priorities, including "taking actions on toxics and chemical safety." The Agency states that it intends to take actions to protect chemical facility safety and security and that it "plans to take a range of identified regulatory actions for certain chemicals and assess other chemicals to determine if risk reduction action is needed to address potential concerns." EPA also lists in the agenda several specific upcoming final regulatory actions it intends to take, including:
• Issuing the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) rule, expected by February 2014; and
• Issuing additional RFS pathways.