By Lynn L. Bergeson
On June 28, 2018, the U.S. Senate passed S.3042 -- Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill) with a vote of 86-11. This bill includes mandatory funding for Energy Title programs, including the Biomass Research and Development Initiative; the Biobased Markets Program; the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Product Manufacturing Assistance Program; the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels; the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP); and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). In addition to securing funding for a range of bioenergy programs, the legislation also expands the types of renewable chemical and biobased product technologies that are eligible for funding. The U.S. House of Representatives version of this bill, H.R. 2, was passed on June 21, 2018, and does not include mandatory funding for Energy Title programs. While this funding was not included in H.R. 2, a previous vote to repeal the Energy Title programs was defeated in the House on May 17, 2018, by a vote of 75-340, signaling strong bipartisan support of the programs. (See the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®) Blog post “Bipartisan Support Keeps Energy Title Programs In Farm Bill.”) The differences between the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill will be resolved in committee.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On May 17, 2018, a proposed amendment to repeal the Farm Bill’s energy title programs was defeated in the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 75-340. These title programs provide grants and loan guarantees to rural lenders and businesses, as well as research and development support for renewable energy products. While these programs account for less than one percent of the total amount that the federal government spends on agriculture and nutrition programs, they provide a strong return on investment and provide vital access to capital for rural businesses. Lloyd Ritter, Director of the Agriculture Energy Coalition, stated, “The House of Representatives’ overwhelming vote shows that there is strong, bipartisan support for the energy title programs. These programs support more than 1.5 million U.S. workers who manufacture biobased products and help rural America adopt new technologies for renewable energy economic opportunities. The final farm bill must include an Energy Title, with strong mandatory funding and necessary updates for the vital programs.”
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On April 12, 2018, House Agriculture Committee Chair Michael Conaway (R-TX) released the Committee’s draft Farm Bill reauthorization, the “Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018” (H.R. 2). The 600-plus page draft legislation includes a number of provisions that will be of interest to Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®) members and the biofuel industry, including the following sections:
- Sec. 6402. Biobased markets program. Section 6402 amends section 9002(i) of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 by authorizing appropriations of $2,000,000 per fiscal year and reauthorizing the program through 2023. Additionally, the section prohibits other federal agencies from placing limitations on procurement of wood products.
- Sec. 6403. Biorefinery, renewable, chemical, and biobased product manufacturing assistance. Section 6403 amends section 9003 of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 by expanding eligibility of eligible projects. The section authorizes appropriations of 48 $75,000,000 per fiscal year and reauthorizing the program through 2023.
- Sec. 6405. Bioenergy program for advanced biofuels. Section 6405 amends section 9005(g) of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 by authorizing appropriations of $50,000,000 per fiscal year and reauthorizing the program through 2023.
- Sec. 6406. Biodiesel fuel education program. Section 6406 amends section 9006(d) of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 by authorizing appropriations of $2,000,000 per fiscal year and reauthorizing the program through 2023.
- Sec. 6410. Biomass Crop Assistance Program. Section 6410 amends section 9011(f) of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 by authorizing appropriations of $25,000,000 per fiscal year and reauthorizing the program through 2023.
- Section 7509. Biomass research and development. Section 7509 amends section 9008(h) of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 to reauthorize appropriations for biomass research and development through fiscal year 2023.
The full text of H.R. 2 and a section-by-section summary are available on the House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill webpage along with several related fact sheets. The House Agriculture Committee marked-up and passed the bill package on April 18, 2018. The House is likely to hold a floor vote in early May.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On March 6, 2018, a coalition of over 200 companies and trade associations sent a letter to the Agricultural Committee leaders in the House and Senate urging the reauthorization of and stable mandatory funding for the energy title programs in the next Farm Bill reauthorization. The letter states that the Farm Bill energy title programs have greatly assisted rural America in developing clean, renewable energy, biobased products, and making energy efficiency investments for more than 15 years with an incredibly modest, cost-effective investment. The less than one tenth of one percent of Farm Bill spending dedicated to the programs has allowed for ag-based entrepreneurs to launch initiatives to generate jobs and economic development in areas such as biogas and advanced biofuels, biopower, biobased products, renewable chemicals, and energy efficiency. Additionally, the letter provides recommendations for further improving the energy title programs. For example, the Biorefinery Assistance Program (BAP) could be opened fully to standalone renewable chemical companies; the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) could be enhanced to support a fuller range of important, proven, market-ready technologies; and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) could be effective in continuing to support biomass energy development and sustainably address hazardous fuels reduction efforts in our nation’s forests.
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On October 17, 2017, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced the recipients of 17 grants totaling $7.3 million for projects focused on the development of next generation agricultural technologies and systems to meet the growing demand for food, fuel, and fiber. Funding is provided by NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), as authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. Recipients include:
- Auburn University, which received $481,539 to develop and optimize the hydrothermal liquefaction of lignin (HTL) chemical stream and to determine the best way to modify epoxy-based resins with the lignin derived material;
- University of Georgia, which received $472,965 to develop new markets, products, and processes using activated carbon monolith catalysts produced from wood and to generate value added products from platform chemicals derived from agricultural and forest resources;
- Iowa State University, which received $482,905 to further develop the engineering of the membrane of microbial cell factories to improve production of biobased fuels and chemicals;
- Ohio State University, which received $482,448 to improve the efficiency, costs, and emissions of the feedstock supply system for cellulosic biorefineries by conjointly supplying corn grain and stover; and
- University of North Texas, which received $482,905 to improve the efficiency of the pyrolysis production of biomass and product quality for biofuel and activated carbon from self-activation process.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On October 19, 2017, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), an Associate member of the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®), announced that it and its member companies sent a letter to the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture requesting the reauthorization of the Farm Bill’s Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Manufacturing Assistance Program (Section 9003). According to the letter, “[s]everal renewable chemical startups and mature chemical companies are waiting to build their first-of-a-kind manufacturing facilities in the United States from homegrown biomass and technologies and will do so with the proper federal policy support.” The letter explained that renewable chemicals provide economic stability for the construction of a biorefinery, since such products generate a higher value than biofuels. Beyond supporting the U.S. manufacturing industry, manufacturing renewable chemicals in the U.S. helps to improve the trade balance, maintain U.S. leadership in renewable energy while reducing dependence on foreign oil, provide value-added crop for products, and create thousands of high quality jobs. BIO and its member companies concluded by urging the Committees “to provide stable mandatory funding for all the core energy title programs that will continue the development of biorefineries, positively impacting the biobased economy and creating thousands of rural jobs.”
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On September 28, 2017, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing titled “Rural Development and Energy Programs: Perspectives for the 2018 Farm Bill” to gather stakeholder input regarding the programs under the Farm Bill that are working or need improvement. In his opening statement, Committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-KS) stated that it is critical for the next Farm Bill to support renewable energy and biobased product manufacturers, as well as rural businesses, cooperatives, health clinics, schools, and other essential service providers.
During the hearing, two panels presented testimony related to the Farm Bill. The first panel consisted of the Assistant to the Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development; the Acting Administrator for the Rural Utilities Service; the Acting Administrator for the Rural Housing Service; and the Acting Administrator for the Rural Business Cooperative Service, and discussed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s vision for fostering growth and economic prosperity throughout rural America and provided an update on program functions within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development. The second panel consisted of private sector stakeholders, including Dr. Brent Shanks, the Director of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Engineering Research Center of Biorenewable Chemicals. During his testimony, Shanks suggested improvements to Title IX of the 2018 Farm Bill aimed at decoupling the risks between technology, market, and infrastructure inherent in completely new biorefineries.
More information on the testimony provided during the hearing is available on the Committee’s website.
On October 27, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed to amend the regulations for the Voluntary Labeling Program for Biobased Products under USDA's BioPreferred Program. As explained in the Federal Register notice, the proposed amendments are needed to address certain legislative requirements in the 2014 Farm Bill that cannot be implemented without further guidance. Specifically, the proposed amendments allow for USDA promotion of biobased products regardless of date of entry into the marketplace, which overrides previous provisions that excluded mature market products. The proposal includes USDA promotion of biobased products, including forest products that incorporate "innovative approaches" per the direction of Congress. The proposal also revises the definition of "biobased product" to include forest products that meet biobased content requirements, regardless of the product's market share, age, or whether it is new.
The major provisions of the proposed rule include:
* Changes to Definitions: USDA proposes to delete definitions of "BioPreferred Product," "Designated Item," and "Mature Market Products." USDA proposes to revise the definitions of "Biobased Product," "Certification Mark Artwork," and "Intermediate Ingredient or Feedstock," and to add new definitions for "Designated Product Category," "Forest Product," "Qualified Biobased Product," and "Renewable Chemical."
* Changes to "Criteria for Product Eligibility to Use the Certification Mark": USDA proposes to describe the biobased content criteria for complex assemblies and to update the voluntary labeling program rules to include these products. USDA also proposes to present the criteria for determining whether a product is using "innovative approaches."
* Changes to "Initial Approval Process": USDA proposes to address situations in which a manufacturer seeks certification for a product that is similar in biobased ingredients and contact to a previously certified product. The proposal also clarifies that manufacturers of certified products are subject to periodic auditing and potential suspension or revocation of certification if violations are found. USDA also proposes to revoke a certification if an error is discovered during the USDA approval process.
* Changes to "Oversight and Monitoring": USDA proposes specific auditing efforts that will be used for the voluntary labeling program. USDA plans to audit the program on an ongoing basis with specific audit activities scheduled every other calendar year.
The proposed rule is open for comment for 60 days, with a comment deadline of December 26, 2014. More information is available in the USDA press release on the voluntary labeling program proposal.
On September 18, 2014, Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA is investing $68 million in 540 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide. This is the most recent in a series of USDA actions designed to help strengthen the country's energy sector. The funding is available through the USDA Rural Development's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). REAP was created by the 2008 Farm Bill and was reauthorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. For more information, go online.
On August 1, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a final rule on "Guidelines for Designating Biobased Products for Federal Procurement." A copy of the rule is available online. The rule is effective on September 2, 2014.
Under the rule, wood products will become eligible under USDA's BioPreferred Program, which was created under the 2002 Farm Bill. The rule removes language that excluded mature markets from the program. This change will open up the program to the pulp and paper industry. In a public statement, the President and CEO of the American Forest and Paper Association called the rule a "step in the right direction."
USDA is expected to issue guidance next month on how wood products may be eligible under the BioPreferred Program.