By Lynn L. Bergeson
On May 21, 2020, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced a bill directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary to establish a renewable feedstock reimbursement program. Aiming to support biofuel producers that have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, this bill can be cited as the Renewable Fuel Feedstock Reimbursement Act of 2020. Under the reimbursement program, biofuel producers will be reimbursed for their feedstock purchases from January 1, 2020, through March 31, 2020, through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). Eligible parties will consist of those that produce renewable fuel used as transportation fuel and eligible feedstocks mean renewable biomass intended for production of the aforementioned renewable fuel. Furthermore, to be eligible to receive reimbursements, eligible entities must enter into an agreement with the USDA Secretary.
The two U.S. Senators initially introduced this idea in April 2020 as an amendment to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stabilization (CARES) Act, which assists the biofuels industry sector. Assistance, however, was not included in the CARES Act package. Senators Klobuchar and Grassley, with industry support, now hope that this second attempt in support of the biofuels industry follows through.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On May 15, 2020, U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Bioeconomy Research and Development Act of 2020, creating a federal research initiative to ensure continued United States leadership in engineering biology. The National Engineering Biology Research and Development Initiative would focus on the advancement of societal well-being, national security, sustainability, and economic productivity and competitiveness. It would accomplish these goals through:
- Advancement of areas of research at the intersection of biological, physical, chemical, data, and computational sciences;
- Advancement of areas in biomanufacturing research;
- Support of social and behavioral sciences and economics research that advances the field of engineering biology;
- Improvement of the understanding of the engineering biology;
- Support of risk research;
- Development of novel tools and technologies to accelerate scientific understanding and technological innovation in engineering biology;
- Expansion of the number of researchers, educators, and students with engineering biology training;
- Acceleration of the translation and commercialization of engineering biology research and development by the private sector; and
- Improvement of the interagency planning and coordination of federal government activities related to engineering biology.
According to Senator Rubio, the Bioeconomy Research and Development Act of 2020 has been endorsed by a number of leading research institutes, including the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), a Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®) member.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
On April 6, 2020, 15 United States Senators submitted a bipartisan letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary, Sonny Perdue, requesting the use of its authority to assist the biofuels industry’s economic circumstances brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Highlighting the negative impacts of the pandemic on farmers and producers who will bear the impact of the decrease in consumption, in the letter, the Senators have also taken the opportunity to criticize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to implement the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Specifically, the letter states that EPA has failed “to implement the RFS in accordance with the law, including its issuance of illegal small refinery waivers and enforcement of ethanol blending requirements.” The lack of proper implementation of RFS combined with the COVID-19 crisis, according to the Senators, further negatively impact the rural communities and employment rates in their respective home states.
Given these circumstances, the 15 signatories of the letter ask that USDA considers the allocation of additional funds provided to the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stabilization (CARES) Act to assist the biofuels industry sector. Assistance would be helpful in the format of reimbursements for feedstocks and additional CCC funds to the Higher-Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program to drive future biofuel demand. Although, Secretary Purdue has not yet responded to the aforementioned request, the biofuels industry is hopeful.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On February 11, 2020, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and U.S. Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) introduced a bill that would phase out unnecessary single-use plastic products: Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020. The legislation would also hold corporations accountable for wasteful products, reform the broken waste and recycling collection system, and reduce wasteful packaging. According to Udall, 92 percent of plastic waste in the United States is never recycled. Focused on waste reduction and waste management policies that can reverse this trend in the country, the implementation of this act would shift the responsibility for recycling and cleanup to the companies that produce wasteful products. The Senate bill is co-sponsored by five other Democratic Senators and 28 Democratic House Representatives. The bill would:
- Spur innovation through incentives for big corporations to make reusable products and items that can actually be recycled;
- Establish minimum recycled content requirements for beverage containers, packaging, and food-service products, while standardizing recycling and composting labeling;
- Reduce and ban certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable;
- Require big corporations to take responsibility for their pollution, requiring producers of plastic products to design, manage, and finance waste and recycling programs;
- Spur massive investments in the U.S. domestic recycling and composting infrastructure, while pressing pause on new plastic facilities until critical environmental and health protections are put in place;
- Create a nationwide beverage container refund program, which is successful at the state level;
- Encourage the design of less wasteful products by ensuring that producers are responsible for cleanup costs and recycling infrastructure; and
- End the hazardous practice of exporting plastic waste overseas to developing countries that do not have the infrastructure in place to manage that waste.
The full bill text can be accessed here, and a summary is available here.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On June 14, 2019, U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Integrity Act of 2019. This Act aims at increasing transparency and predictability to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) small refinery exemption process under the RFS program. Requiring small refineries to petition for exemptions by June 1 of each year, according to the two leaders, this legislation would hold EPA accountable for exempted gallons in the annual Renewable Volume Obligation (RVO) it sets every November. It is known that, since 2018, many complaints have been made regarding President Trump’s EPA liberally providing exemptions to refineries with no back-up information or congressional oversight. This Act attempts to address this issue by making key information associated with exemptions made publicly available. Additionally, if passed, the Act would require EPA to report to Congress on the methodology it uses when granting these small refinery exemptions.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On August 23, 2018, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and 37 others submitted a bipartisan letter, asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to increase the renewable volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as proposed by EPA in June 2018. Under the aforementioned proposed RFS, EPA would raise the advanced biofuel volume for 2019 to 4.88 billion gallons and the biomass-based diesel volume for 2020 to 2.43 billion gallons. The bipartisan group argues that although these increases may be promising, the potential of biodiesel is still taken too lightly. Not only does the biodiesel industry have prodigious growth potential, its expansion would significantly generate jobs in the U.S. In particular, the Senators emphasized the need to also recognize small refiners’ economic hardship exemptions during the 2019 compliance year.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On August 1, 2018, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW Committee) held a hearing entitled “Examining EPA’s Agenda: Protecting the Environment and Allowing America’s Economy to Grow.” Testifying at the hearing was Andrew Wheeler, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Acting Administrator. Witness testimony and an archive of the hearing are available online. The hearing was intended to provide Wheeler with the opportunity to present himself for the first time in front of the EPW Committee as the Acting Administrator, and to update the EPW Committee on EPA’s agenda since the resignation of Scott Pruitt, EPA’s former Administrator. Wheeler’s testimony highlighted three main priorities for EPA moving forward: (1) regulatory certainty between EPA and state/local governments; (2) improvement of programs within EPA; and (3) increased transparency in risk communication. On biofuels, Wheeler stated that EPA has approved pathways for biofuels derived from sorghum which “lays the groundwork for more homegrown fuels under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) and adds diversity to the nation’s biofuel mix.”
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On July 30, 2018, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Chris Coons (D-DE) reintroduced their sustainable chemistry bill, the Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2018 (S. 3296). This bill encourages the development of new and innovative chemicals, products and processes with an improved “environmental footprint” through efficient use of resources, reducing or eliminating exposure to hazardous substances, or otherwise minimizing harm to human health and the environment. The legislation is intended to support new innovations in chemistry that benefit the economy, the environment, and human health. The bill supports coordinated efforts in sustainable chemistry across federal agencies through research and development, technology transfer, commercialization, education, and training programs -- including partnerships with the private sector. The bill does not include any regulatory components, nor does it authorize new spending. Its goal, rather, is to coordinate better federal activities in sustainable chemistry and encourage industry, academia, nonprofits, and the general public to innovate, develop, and bring to market new sustainable chemicals, materials, products, and processes.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On October 18, 2017, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced to the Senate the Renewable Chemicals Act of 2017 (S. 1980), which aims to establish a short-term tax credit for the production of renewable chemicals and for investment in renewable chemical production facilities. If enacted, the legislation would allow taxpayers to claim a production credit equal to $0.15 per pound of biobased content of each renewable chemical produced. In lieu of the production credit, taxpayers would be able to claim an investment credit equal to 30 percent of the basis of any eligible property that is part of a renewable chemical production facility. The bipartisan bill was co-sponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Chris Coons (D-DE), Al Franken (D-MN), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and is companion legislation to H.R. 3149, which was introduced in the House in June 2017 by Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ).