EPA is inviting public comment on its analysis of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the production and transport of cottonseed oil feedstock used in the production of biofuels. The Federal Register notice also provides an overview as to how EPA may apply its analysis in future determinations, as to whether biofuels from cottonseed oil will meet the criteria for renewable fuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard program. EPA notes that, based on its current analysis, it anticipates that biofuels produced from cottonseed oil could qualify as biomass-based diesel or advanced biofuel if typical fuel production process technologies are used. Comments on the draft analysis must be submitted by August 13, 2015.
On June 25, 2015, the 2015 New York State Energy Plan was released, outlining a 40 percent reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) from 1990 to 2030 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. The aggressive plan would achieve the reduction in GHG emissions through changes to power, transportation, buildings, and industry with the goal of at least half of the state's electricity coming from renewable sources, including biomass, wind, and solar, by 2030. Energy consumption in buildings will also be reduced by 23 percent from 2012 levels by 2030. This decrease in energy consumption of buildings is the most cost effective way to reduce energy use due to the large number of inefficient buildings that can be upgraded at relatively low expense.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held its first "listening sessions" this week on its controversial proposed rule to reduce carbon dioxide at existing power plants. BRAG has previously reported on the proposed rule. A copy of the proposed rule is available online.
The listening sessions took place on July 29 and 30, 2014, in Atlanta, Georgia, Denver, Colorado, and Washington, D.C., and will take place on August 1, 2014, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During the sessions, EPA heard from a wide range of stakeholders on both sides of the issue, including industry representatives arguing that the proposal would harm the economy, environmental groups stating their support for the rule, and private citizens describing the need for EPA to take action to clean up the air in their states and communities.
On July 31, 2014, USDA issued a report on greenhouse gases. According to USDA's press release, the Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Agriculture and Forestry: Methods for Entity-Scale Inventory report "for the first time, provides uniform scientific methods for quantifying the changes in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and carbon storage from various land management and conservation activities." A copy of the report is available online.
On July 15, 2014, Inside EPA reported that "the White House is examining options for reversing EPA's proposed cuts to several renewable fuel standard (RFS) production targets in order to promote biofuels that create fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than conventional fuels, informed sources say, as part of the Obama administration's broader efforts to combat climate change."
The article also quotes sources stating:
"[F]igures under discussion between administration officials and industry representatives include raising the renewable fuel target -- largely met with corn ethanol production -- from 13 billion gallons in the proposed rule to a range of 13.5-13.6 billion gallons in the final rule; increasing the advanced biofuel target from 2.2 billion gallons in the proposed rule to a range of 2.3-2.5 billion gallons; and raising the biomass-based diesel target from 1.28 billion gallons under the proposed rule to 1.5-1.7 billion gallons in the final rule.
"The most dramatic increase under consideration is said to be for cellulosic biofuel, which would rise from 17 million gallons in the proposed rule to 23 million gallons in the final rule, the sources say. "
On May 29, 2014, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report entitled "Ethanol's Broken Promise: Using Less Corn Ethanol Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions." A copy of the report is available online.
The report concludes that "[t]he Environmental Protection Agency's pending proposal to cut the amount of corn ethanol that must be blended into gasoline in 2014 by 1.39 billion gallons would lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 3 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2e) – as much as taking 580,000 cars off the road for a year." The report finds that the corn ethanol volume requirements in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) have led to increased greenhouse gas emissions as more uncultivated land is cleared to grow biofuels feedstocks.
Key biofuels trade groups have made public statements challenging the report's findings. For instance, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) issued a press release disputing the flawed EWG report. In the release, RFA President Bob Dinneen states that "[t]he Department of Energy's GREET model clearly shows that corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 34 percent compared to gasoline, including hypothetical land use change emissions. Additionally, a Life Cycle Associates study found that corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 37-40 percent when compared to tight oil from fracking and tar sands." RFA's press release is available online.
The report comes at a time when EPA is expected to release its final 2014 RFS rule soon, perhaps in June. The biofuels industry generally has urged EPA to revisit the proposed reductions to the advanced and corn ethanol 2014 RFS volumes, while RFS opponents, including generally the oil and gas and livestock industries, have been supportive of EPA's proposed 2014 RFS reductions.
EPA is vigorously questioning results of a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-funded study that concludes ethanol produced from crop residues such as corn stover can have higher lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than conventional gasoline, arguing that the findings are based on an "extremely unlikely scenario" of unsubstantiated agricultural practices. RFA is also highly critical of the new study, claiming its "methodology is fundamentally flawed and its conclusions are highly suspect." RFA made available a useful fact sheet that is available online.
The DOE-funded study was published on April 20, 2014, in Nature Climate Change. The study claims to demonstrate that ethanol produced from corn stover and other crop residues does not meet EPA's criteria for achieving a 60 percent GHG emission reduction compared to gasoline in order for the fuels to qualify under the RFS. The study could raise questions over EPA's ability to raise the cellulosic target in the final version of the 2014 RFS, especially if the fuel's GHGs disqualify them under the program.
EPA is also refuting the study as hypothetical, and lacking a firm basis in current agriculture practices. An EPA spokeswoman reportedly stated the "paper is based on a hypothetical assumption that 100 percent of corn stover in a field is harvested; an extremely unlikely scenario that is inconsistent with recommended agricultural practices." More information is available online.
On December 12, 2013, Representative Scott Peters (D-CA), Chair of the House Algae Caucus, introduced H.R. 3758, a bill to extend the $1.01/gallon second generation biofuel producer credit and the special allowance for second generation biofuel plant property. These incentives are among several currently set to expire at the end of the year.
Members of the House and Senate have sent letters to the Chairs and Ranking Members of their respective tax writing Committees -- the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee -- urging the extension of ten clean energy incentives as soon as possible. Biofuels and biodiesel incentives are among those identified in the letter as important to extend until any broader tax reform legislation is passed.
The House is currently out on its winter break and will not return until January. There are promising signs that the House and Senate will work to pass retroactive extensions of incentives for the biofuels industry when they resume legislative business early next year.
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.
On the first day of its new term on October 15, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would grant review of parts of EPA's greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations. The Court will review part of the June 2012 decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which upheld EPA's GHG program. It will review whether EPA's GHG regulations for motor vehicles should have triggered Prevention of Significant Deterioration permitting for stationary sources. The case and its outcome could impact the current efforts of the Obama Administration to develop and finalize new GHG regulations for new and existing stationary sources. It is reported that the Court is likely to hear arguments in the first few months of the new year.