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EPA is accepting public comments through May 26, 2015, on two proposed information collection requests (ICR) published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. The proposed ICRs concern projected cellulosic biofuels volumes and gasoline containing greater than 10 volume percent ethanol up to 15 volume percent ethanol (E15). Comments received will assist EPA as the agency prepares to submit the final ICRs to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for its official approval and dissemination.

In the first proposed ICR on "Cellulosic Production Volume Projections and Efficient Producer Reporting," EPA is seeking to collect information from potential cellulosic biofuel producers to aid in determining the annual volume standards. In the second proposed ICR on "Recordkeeping and Reporting Related to E15 (Renewal)," EPA is seeking comment on recordkeeping and reporting items related to the legal use of E15 in commerce.

 

 

On October 17, 2014, Abengoa opened -- and DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz dedicated -- the world's largest cellulosic biorefinery in Hugoton, Kansas. This second generation cellulosic ethanol plant will process 1,000 tons of biomass per day and utilize mainly corn stover, as well as wheat straw, milo stubble, and switch grass. This biorefinery will produce up to 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol every year. It benefited from a $132.4 million loan guarantee and a $97 million grant, both from DOE. More information about the plant and comments from the opening ceremony are available in a DOE press release, "Secretary Moniz Dedicates Innovative Commercial-Scale Cellulosic Biofuel Plant" and on the Biofuels Digest website.


 

In an August 11, 2014, filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, cellulosic biofuel company KiOR, Inc. (KiOR) reported that without any new financial commitments, the Company only has enough funding to operate through September 2014. This announcement is significant for the biofuels industry, as EPA had relied on KiOR's projected volumes of available cellulosic biofuels to make up a significant part of the 2013 cellulosic renewable volume obligations (RVO) under the federal RFS. In addition, biofuels and RFS supporters have cited KiOR as a success story for continued support for the advanced and cellulosic RVOs under the RFS.


 

On May 2, 2013, EPA published a proposed rule and a direct final rule that would amend its 2013 cellulosic requirement published on August 15, 2013. The rules are available here and here.


Through these actions, EPA is proposing a revised and reduced cellulosic standard for 2013 of 810,185 gallons. As EPA explains, the direct final rule will be "effective on July 1, 2014 without further notice, unless EPA receives relevant adverse comment by June 2, 2014. If EPA receives relevant adverse comment, [it] will publish a timely withdrawal of this direct final rule in the Federal Register informing the public that this rule will not take effect."


EPA also explains that the proposed rule and direct final rule follow from EPA having granted petitions for reconsideration of the 2013 cellulosic biofuel standard by API and AFPM. Further, EPA explains that it granted the petitions because KiOR, which was "one of the two companies that EPA expected to produce cellulosic biofuel in 2013 announced soon after EPA signed its final rule that it intended to produce substantially lower volumes of cellulosic biofuel in 2013 than it had earlier reported to EPA. Since the cellulosic biofuel standard was based on EPA's projection of cellulosic biofuel production in 2013, EPA deemed this new information to be of central relevance to the rule, warranting reconsideration. On reconsideration, EPA is directed to base the standard on the lower of 'projected' production of cellulosic fuel in 2013 or the cellulosic biofuel applicable volume set forth in the statute. Since data are available to show actual production volumes for 2013, EPA's 'projection' and final rule are based on actual cellulosic biofuel production in 2013."
 


 

On January 23, 2014, EPA issued letters to the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) partially answering their October 2013 petitions for consideration of the final rulemaking, "Regulation of Fuels and Fuel Additives: 2013 Renewable Fuel Standards; Final Rule," published in the Federal Register on August 15, 2013. In its letters, EPA explains that it is granting the petitions by AFPM and API for reconsideration of the 2013 cellulosic biofuel standard under the RFS. EPA explained that it came to this decision in light of KiOR, Inc.'s downgraded production projections for 2013. KiOR has been the largest U.S. producer of cellulosic biofuels, and EPA largely depended on the availability of the Company's projected volumes to help ensure obligated parties under the RFS could meet their 2013 cellulosic biofuel requirements.


While welcomed by API and AFPM, this announcement comes at a time when the biofuels industry -- and the cellulosic biofuels industry in particular -- is under increasing attack by API, AFPM, and other stakeholders in the refining, agriculture, and food sectors. Several leaders within the biofuels industry had urged EPA not to grant the petitions by AFPM and API for reconsideration of the 2013 cellulosic biofuel standards under the RFS.
 


 

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R), Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, and State Secretary of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Bill Northey led an effort to send a letter to EPA requesting it to convene a field hearing in Iowa on the Agency's proposed 2014 RFS rule. The letter was signed by the entire Congressional delegation from Iowa. A copy of the letter is available online.


EPA's proposed 2014 RFS rule would reduce the 2014 statutory gallon requirements for cellulosic biofuels, advanced biofuels, and corn ethanol. Governor Branstad testified at EPA's recent hearing in Arlington, Virginia, on the proposed rule that it would have detrimental effects on the biofuels industry and rural economy in his state and other Midwestern states. The Iowa delegation expresses in the letter the same concern, and argues that EPA should hold a field hearing in Iowa to hear from Midwestern farmers and producers who could not attend the Virginia hearing and who would be disproportionally impacted by the proposed reductions.
 


 

On September 26, 2013, cellulosic biofuels company KiOR, Inc. announced that it intends to build a second cellulosic biorefinery near its existing plant in Columbus, Mississippi. This second plant, or "Columbus II," is expected to cost $225 million and the Company intends to build it in 18 months after it raises sufficient capital. This announcement is significant, especially as it comes at a time when federal RFS opponents are strong and have waged a campaign to dismantle the law in part by arguing about the lack of development in the cellulosic biofuels space. KiOR's press release on Columbus II is available online.