The Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG) helps members develop and bring to market their innovative biobased and renewable chemical products through insightful policy and regulatory advocacy. BRAG is managed by B&C® Consortia Management, L.L.C., an affiliate of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On August 1, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a public hearing to hear from all segments of the fuel industry on the proposed rule to set the 2018 renewable volume obligations (RVO) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.  Among the nearly 150 individuals and organizations scheduled to testify at the hearing were numerous biofuel industry stakeholders who praised EPA for issuing the proposed rule on time and for maintaining the statutory 15 billion gallon volume requirement for conventional renewable fuels, but urged the agency to increase the proposed requirements for advanced and cellulosic fuels. 
 
During its testimony, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) stated that it believes that EPA “erred on the side of pessimism with regard to the potential for significant growth in cellulosic ethanol commercialization.”  According to Bob Dinneen, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the RFA, many plants are in the process of adding bolt-on fiber conversion technology to their existing facilities, which could dramatically increase cellulosic ethanol production next year.  RFA intends to provide EPA with updated projections for cellulosic fuel before the comment period ends.  Dinneen also highlighted concerns with Renewable Identification Number (RIN) market manipulation and suggested that EPA continue to allow imported biofuels to help comply with the RFS program.
 
With a group of approximately 20 speakers, the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) highlighted key data and information regarding market realities and underutilized capacity, and the impacts on small businesses and manufacturing, feedstock availability, and consumer choice.  Donnell Rehagen, NBB CEO, stated that the “current numbers shortchange the progress we have made. They are a step back for the RFS, job creation, small businesses and rural economies.”  Rehagen clarified that “these steps backwards are not about paper but people.”
 
The Renewable Energy Group (REG) informed EPA that ample feedstocks, technology and quality advances, and subsidized imported biofuel are three reasons why the agency should increase the biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuel minimum volumes.  Derek Winkel, Executive Director of Manufacturing, stated that “investments [into the biofuel sector] would not have been made without increasing demand for biodiesel and renewable diesel.  This demand, in part, is supported by a strong, growing and consistent RVO and RFS.”  Paul Nees, Executive Director of REG’s Operations Control Team, testified that “[t]he domestic biodiesel industry is ready and able to fulfill demand gaps with low-cost, high-quality fuel with no market disruption.”
 
During its testimony, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) suggested that the recent verdict in Americans for Clean Energy v. EPA should radically alter the factors EPA considers when determining RFS levels this year and going forward.  “The Court clearly affirmed that Congress’ intent for the RFS from the very beginning was to crack the petroleum monopoly and to push biofuels into the marketplace,” stated Monte Shaw, IRFA Executive Director.  “Whether in a reset discussion or in setting biodiesel and ethanol levels, the EPA must act according to the clear directive from the Court.”
 
The American Coalition for Ethanol's (ACE) testimony highlighted its view on conventional biofuel levels, the general waiver authority as it relates to inadequate domestic supply, the use of the reset provisions, and updating the greenhouse gas modeling for corn ethanol as it relates to Brazilian sugarcane ethanol.  The Coalition intends to detail its position on these topics in written comments.  Jonathon Lehman, ACE legislative counsel, also praised Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds for their strong public support for keeping the RFS on track.
 
Stakeholders representing the oil industry were also present to testify to the problems they see with the RFS program, including the representatives from the American Petroleum Institute (API), the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and Valero. 
 
Written statements and supporting information concerning the proposed rule are available under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0091.  As stated in the Federal Register notice, EPA will consider the written comments with the same weight as any oral comments presented at the public hearing.


 

By Kathleen M. Roberts

On August 2, 2017, DOE published a notice in the Federal Register announcing a public meeting of the Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee.  The committee is comprised of approximately 30 volunteers from industry, academia, nonprofit organizations, and local government that collaborate to:

  • Advise the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Points of Contact concerning:
    • The technical focus and direction of requests for proposals issued under the Initiative; and
    • Procedures for reviewing and evaluating the proposals;
  • Facilitate consultations and partnerships among federal and state agencies, agricultural producers, industry, consumers, the research community, and other interested groups to carry out program activities relating to the Initiative; and
  • Evaluate and perform strategic planning on program activities relating to the Initiative.

The purpose of the meeting is to develop advice and guidance that promotes research and development (R&D) leading to the production of biobased fuels and products.  The tentative agenda includes updates on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and DOE Biomass R&D activities, as well as presentations on biomass interface with fossil fuel. 
 
The meeting will take place in Los Angeles, California, from 1:00 p.m.–5:30 p.m. on August 15, 2017, and from 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. on August 16, 2017.  A summary of the meeting will be available for public review on the committee website.


 

 

On January 27, 2017, AkzoNobel, a member of the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®), signed a framework joint development agreement with Itaconix, a specialty chemicals company and U.S. subsidiary of Revolymer, to explore opportunities for biobased polymer production.  According to the agreement, Itaconix will provide proprietary polymerization technology to turn itaconic acid from fermented sugars into polymers and AkzoNobel will carry out the development and commercialization of the biobased polymers.  The deal aligns closely with AkzoNobel’s sustainability agenda and will generate biobased polymers with unique properties for use in everyday applications while furthering the development of biobased chemistry on a large scale.


 
The biofuels industry is likely to face increasingly challenging times during the tenures of the new 115 th Congress -- which began on January 3 -- and the Trump Administration, scheduled to begin this Friday, January 20.
 
Throughout his campaign for President, Trump repeatedly pledged his support for biofuels and the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Indeed, it is this support that helped Trump win in key Midwestern battleground states, including Iowa. Despite this, Trump has nominated fossil fuel supporters and anti-biofuels advocates to three key Cabinet positions. His nominee for U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is the former CEO of Exxon Corporation. Exxon and other RFS-obligated parties have been actively fighting for the repeal of the RFS since 2012. The nominee to head the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), former Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry, has close ties with the fossil fuel sector, did not actively support the RFS during his two Presidential campaigns, and has in the past called for the elimination of the DOE, as well as mandates that “skew” the energy marketplace. In addition, Governor Perry petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2008 for a 50 percent waiver of the RFS requirements, which EPA denied. He has also taken positions against issue-specific tax incentives and any specific incentives for new energy development. Finally, Scott Pruitt is the nominee to lead EPA. In his current role as the Republican Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt has ties to fossil fuel groups and has sued EPA 19 times -- the very agency he is nominated to run -- over the RFS and the Clean Power Plan, among other major regulations under the purview of EPA.
 
On Wednesday, January 18, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held its hearing to consider the nomination of Pruitt to become the Administrator of EPA. Pruitt indicated in a meeting earlier this month and during his nomination hearing before the EPW Committee that, as EPA Administrator, he would administer the RFS law as Congress intended.
 
On January 5, several U.S. Senators from Midwestern states met with Pruitt to discuss their concerns over his criticism of the RFS, among other policies. Reportedly, these Senators emerged from the meeting reassured that Pruitt would follow the RFS law. The RFS law, however, provides the EPA Administrator discretion in his implementation of the law. For instance, one potential change to the regulations implementing the RFS currently being considered and on which public comment is being solicited is whether to change the point of obligation under the RFS, which would shift the obligated parties downstream to fuel marketers, including gas stations. Such regulatory changes to the implementation of the RFS law could have detrimental effects on its intended purpose to increase the volumes of biofuels that are blended and used in our nation’s fuel supply.
 
During Pruitt’s nomination hearing, he reiterated his commitment to implementing the RFS law as Congress intended, despite his past statements that the RFS law is “flawed” and “unworkable.” Pruitt explained that he believes that the EPA Administrator’s waiver authority under the RFS should be used “judiciously.” He suggested, however, that implementation of the RFS could be improved.
 
Generally, biofuels advocates have argued that there is no need for legislation to change -- and certainly not to repeal -- the RFS. While there still exists ardent RFS support in both Houses of Congress, biofuels advocates will likely face greater challenges to their efforts to prevent the passage of legislation that would alter or repeal the RFS, or to alter or repeal other existing biofuels incentives. For instance, at a recent hearing, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) voiced his ongoing disapproval of the military’s focus on developing and using alternative fuels since they have been more expensive than fossil fuels.

 

On August 3, 2016, 24 farmer and public interest organizations wrote to the Obama Administration expressing their disappointment with the direction that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has taken with the proposed modernization of the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology (Coordinated Framework). The letter argues that an overly permissive regulatory framework for genetically engineered (GE) products has resulted in negative consequences, and that GE products need broader and more cautious regulatory oversight. The letter also states that public engagement with the project has not been proactively pursued by the Coordinated Framework's Working Group, and demands "more transparency, more public meetings and more public input."


 

 

 

 

 
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