On November 25, 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a notice inviting applications for nearly $10.5 million in USDA value-added producer grants (VAPG), which help agricultural producers enter into value-added activities related to the processing and/or marketing of biobased value-added products. A copy of the USDA press release on the announcement is available online, and a copy of the Federal Register notice is available online. The funding notice encourages "applications from eligible entities supporting value-added activities related to bio-based products…Bio-based products are defined as commercial or industrial products composed of biological products or renewable domestic agricultural materials or forestry materials, including construction materials, fibers, papers, compost, fertilizer, lubricants, plastics and paint (see online for more information)." Applications are due by February 24, 2014.
This week could determine whether Congress will be able to pass its next five-year Farm Bill by the end of this year. Congress is expected to adjourn for its Thanksgiving recess at the end of this week, and the House of Representatives is expected to adjourn for the year on December 13, 2013. With the little time remaining to conduct official Congressional business this year, two of the four principal Farm Bill conferees working to join the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill into one final piece of legislation, have made public statements stressing the importance of reaching a deal by the end of the week. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) reported that the four principal conferees are working intensely this week to reach agreement on a framework for the final bill. Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK) has reportedly asserted that this is the "deadline" week for conferees to reach agreement on final legislation to provide the House of Representatives time to pass it before the year's end.
While there are some reports that progress is being made to merge the House and Senate versions of crop insurance programs, the most significant difference apparently remains on food stamps. The Senate-passed version contains $4 billion in cuts to the program over ten years, while the House version would cut $40 billion. There is some talk that Congress could look to pass a short term extension of the current Farm Bill if enough progress is not made this week.
Last week, part of EPA's much anticipated 2014 proposed RFS rule, or at least a draft of the rule, was leaked and widely disseminated. If the text of the leaked proposed rule is representative of the actual proposed rule, the oil and gas industry would likely view it more favorably than would the biofuels industry. In the leaked version of the proposal, EPA would use its authority under the RFS to adjust downward the cellulosic, advanced, and overall renewable fuel volume requirements for 2014. It would require obligated parties to blend or use 15.21 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2014, as opposed to the 18.15 which is required under the 2007 statute.
In the past few months, AFPM and API filed a joint petition, and Valero Energy Corporation filed a petition, requesting that EPA grant a partial waiver of the 2014 statutory RFS requirements. Generally, AFPM and API argued that because the 2014 RFS requirements would require obligated parties to blend more E10 than they are permitted to under the law, they would necessarily restrict the U.S. fuel supply, which would harm consumers. To avoid this harm, AFPM and API requested that EPA waive the 2014 RFS requirements to no more than 9.7 percent of the U.S. fuel supply. Valero's letter pointed out that due to the blend wall, RIN prices are higher than they should be, which reportedly is causing economic harm to affected parties, including consumers.
The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) sent separate letters to EPA urging EPA to deny the AFPM and API joint petition. They both assert that there are several options obligated parties have to meet their 2014 RFS requirements, including the greater use of E85, E15, and drop-in fuels.
Both U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy have issued statements denouncing the leak and reiterating that the final version of the 2014 RFS proposed rule is still being deliberated.
On September 30, 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it had completed its second sale of sugar under the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Farm Bill) Feedstock Flexibility Program (FFP). Reportedly, USDA purchased the sugar for $65.9 million and sold it immediately for $12.6 million, a $53.3 million loss. Currently, no information is available about the sale on USDA's website because the website is suspended during the government shutdown.
The 2008 Farm Bill, which expired on September 30, directs USDA to keep sugar prices at or above certain levels, and authorizes USDA either to acquire sugar through forfeiture of sugar loans made by the USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation or to buy sugar and sell it to bioenergy producers until prices raise to those levels. Domestic sugar prices have been falling this year.
USDA was criticized for its first sale of sugar as part of the FFP because in that instance USDA had purchased 7,118 short tons of refined beet sugar for $3.6 million and sold it to renewable fuel producer Front Range Energy for $900,000 (a loss of $2.7 million).
Not only did the U.S. government shut down at midnight on Monday, but so did the nine month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. With no new five-year Farm Bill, the future is uncertain for rural energy programs supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), including the Biorefinery Assistance Program that promotes the development of biorefineries in the U.S.
As we have reported earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the next five-year Farm Bill, including funding for farm, nutrition, and energy programs. Importantly, the Senate bill continues and provides mandatory funding for existing Farm Bill energy programs and extends eligibility to renewable chemicals. After failing to pass a combined bill, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a "farm-only" bill this summer and a nutrition-only bill cutting $40 billion in food stamps just last week. The House farm-only Farm Bill contains an energy title without mandatory funding that will instead be subject to annual appropriations, and it does not extend the energy programs to renewable chemicals.
There has been hope that though the differences are deep, the House and Senate will be able to pass a five-year Farm Bill by the end of the year when mandatory funds for commodity subsidies and food stamps expire. Whether this is true now largely depends on how quickly Congress re-opens the government and raises the debt ceiling to ensure the ability of the U.S. to meet its financial obligations.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it is seeking bids from bioenergy producers to purchase sugar from the Department as part of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Farm Bill) Feedstock Flexibility Program (FFP). This will be the second time that USDA will utilize the FFP. The 2008 Farm Bill directs USDA to keep sugar prices at or above certain levels, and authorizes USDA to either acquire sugar through forfeiture of sugar loans made by the USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation or to buy sugar and sell it to bioenergy producers until prices raise to those levels. Domestic sugar prices have been falling this year.
USDA was criticized for its first sale of sugar as part of the FFP about a month ago because in that instance USDA had purchased 7,118 short tons of refined beet sugar for $3.6 million and sold it to renewable fuel producer Front Range Energy for $900,000 (a loss of $2.7 million).
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced that it will provide $40 million for a Center of Excellence (COE) on sustainable aviation fuel and the environment. The funds will be distributed in $4 million increments each year for the next ten years. Washington State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be leading the effort, and several other universities will be involved. For a full list of participants and more information on the initiative, please see a copy of FAA's press release, which is available online.
This announcement illustrates the federal government's important role in and commitment to facilitating the ongoing development and commercialization of U.S. biofuels. This year, the FAA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) renewed their joint agreement to promote the development of aviation biofuels. They are aiming for one billion gallons of commercial aviation capacity by 2018.
USDA is continuing its work to promote the U.S. biofuels industry, which USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack believes helps bolster the U.S. agriculture sector and rural economy. On September 12, 2013, USDA announced that it will provide a total of $15.5 million to 188 advanced biofuel producers under USDA's Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, which was created under the 2008 Farm Bill (P.L. 110-234, the "Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008"). It is reported that through that program to date, USDA has provided $211 million to 290 biofuel producers. This federal support is an important component to efforts of producers in the still nascent advanced biofuels industry to get up and running. USDA's press release on this announcement is available online.
Congress returned from its August recess this week, and, as expected, the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives is looking toward passing legislation on the remaining nutrition portion of the Farm Bill, including $40 billion in cuts to food stamp programs over the next ten years. The bill could come up for a vote next week.
House Republican leaders, including House Committee on Agriculture Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK), have stated they do not wish to go ahead with a conference committee with the Senate to complete the next five-year Farm Bill until they pass the nutrition portion. In June, the House passed a "farm-only" Farm Bill, H.R. 2642, which left out funding for food stamps and other nutrition programs. A more comprehensive version of the Farm Bill containing $20 billion in cuts to nutrition programs was defeated in a previous vote mainly because several Democrats felt the cuts were too large, while several Republicans thought they did not go far enough.
Passage of a nutrition portion of the Farm Bill containing $40 billion in cuts may attract enough House Republicans to lead to a conference committee with the Senate to hammer out a final version of the next five-year Farm Bill, but it will not make those negotiations any faster or easier. In May, the Senate passed its version of the next Farm Bill, S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, which funds both farm programs and food stamps. S. 954 contains a strong energy title with nearly $900 million in mandatory funding and expanded eligibility for renewable chemicals. Senate Committee on Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who is leading the Farm Bill effort in the Senate, has said that $40 billion in cuts is a "non-starter." In fact, she and other Democratic leaders in the Senate opposed the original $20 billion in cuts the House attempted to pass earlier this year. This disagreement will likely extend the Farm Bill conference committee negotiations beyond September 30, when the current version of the Farm Bill expires.
This week, the National Advanced Biofuels Conference and Expo was held in Omaha, Nebraska. During the three-day conference, industry leaders presented on and discussed major issues facing the industry, from legal considerations to advancing the aviation biofuels industry, supply, and feedstock successes and challenges. During the conference, Michael McAdams, President of the Advanced Biofuels Association, and Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board, discussed some of their current federal policy priorities and work. Both spoke about the importance of the federal RFS to the industry and stressed the need for industry to unite at this time when it is increasingly under attack.
McAdams addressed the work this year of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to examine and reform the RFS. He mentioned that Committee's two-day hearing this summer on the subject during which he testified on the importance of the policy. He stated his expectation that legislation to reform the RFS could be drafted and considered by the House of Representatives by mid-October. He urged everyone to contact their Members of Congress on behalf of the RFS, if their trade associations asked them to do so.
Jobe made similarly supportive statements of the RFS and the need for the industry to unite. In addition, he stated the importance to the biodiesel industry of not only the RFS, but of maintaining the biodiesel tax credit. He attributed both policies to the industry's recent substantial growth, and cited them as important to achieving the industry's new goal of making up 10 billion gallons of the fuel supply by 2022.
Also during the conference, on behalf of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Rural Development Acting Under Secretary Doug O'Brien announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making payments to support the production of advanced biofuel. USDA is making nearly $15.5 million in payments to 188 producers through the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program. USDA remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. This announcement is one part of the Department's efforts to strengthen the rural economy. The funding is being provided through USDA's Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, which was established in the 2008 Farm Bill. Under this program, payments are made to eligible producers based on the amount of advanced biofuels produced from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch. Examples of eligible feedstocks include but are not limited to: crop residue; animal, food, and yard waste; vegetable oil; and animal fat. Through the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program and other USDA programs, USDA is working to support the research, investment, and infrastructure necessary to build a strong biofuels industry that creates jobs and broadens the range of feedstocks used to produce renewable fuel. More than 290 producers in 47 states and territories have received $211 million in payments since the program's inception. It has supported the production of more than three billion gallons of advanced biofuel and the equivalent of more than 36 billion kilowatt hours of electric energy.