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 Lynn L. Bergeson

On September 17, 2018, scientists at Columbia University published findings of a study on carbon dioxide (CO2) electrocatalysis as the first step in converting CO2 into renewable fuels. The results of the study are key in developing conversion points for CO2 to be used as a feedstock and renewable electricity in the synthesis of different types of fuel. For further details on the groundbreaking progress discovered by Columbia University’s scientists, the published article can be found in its entirety here.


 

On February 16, 2016, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack responded to two recent reports on ethanol and renewable fuels. The first report was published by USDA and is on "2015 Energy Balance for the Corn-Ethanol Industry," and the second report comes from the University of Missouri Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) and is a "Literature Review of Estimated Market Effects of U.S. Corn Starch Ethanol." Both studies demonstrate the growth of the United States' renewable energy industry with improved ethanol and biodiesel production resulting in doubled renewable energy production and a reduction in foreign oil imports. The energy used to produce corn has fallen as well, which has made the production of ethanol more efficient so that "more energy is being produced from ethanol than is used to produce it, by factors of 2 to 1 nationally and by factors of 4 to 1 in the Midwest." Both studies point towards a solid future of growth and innovation for the U.S. renewable energy industry.


 

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.
 


 

Despite the August Congressional Recess, much regulatory and legislative action continues in Washington, D.C. on the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Earlier this month, the leading trade groups representing the oil and gas industry, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), petitioned EPA to lower the 2014 RFS renewable volume obligations (RVO) to below 10 percent of total U.S. gasoline supply. Under the RFS, EPA is directed to set the following year's RVOs by November 30. API and AFPM argue that waiving the RVOs for 2014 to 9.7 percent of the U.S. gasoline supply is necessary so their members may fulfill their volume obligations under the RFS without exceeding the 10 percent ethanol "blend wall."


The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), one of the leading biofuels trade associations, has already responded to the API/AFPM waiver petition by sending a letter to EPA urging the Agency to deny the waiver request for several reasons. A copy of the letter is available online. Among other things, RFA argues that API and AFPM lack standing to petition EPA to reduce the 2014 RVOs since the associations themselves are not obligated to comply with the RFS. In addition, RFA argues that there are several ways that obligated parties in the oil and gas industry may meet their 2014 RFS RVOs, including an increase in E15 and E85 sales, and carry over Renewable Identification Numbers (RIN) from 2013.


Earlier this month, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice requesting that they investigate allegations that certain petroleum companies are deliberately blocking the introduction of higher ethanol blends in violation of antitrust laws. A copy of the letter is available online.
 

As we have reported, a group of four Republican Members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee are working during the August recess on developing potential legislative reforms to the federal RFS. It has been reported this week that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is considering potentially attaching an RFS legislative reform package to a "must-pass" bill similar to the one expected this fall to address the "debt ceiling."
 


 

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.
 


 

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.