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By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On April 12, 2022, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary, announced steps that USDA is taking to implement President Biden’s plan to enable energy independence by boosting homegrown biofuels. President Biden’s plan aims to reduce energy prices and tackle the rising consumer prices caused by “Putin’s Price Hike.” As part of USDA’s measures to help the Biden Administration to achieve its goals, USDA is making the following investments:

  • $5.6 million in funding for seven states to build infrastructure for renewable fuels through the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program;
     
  • $700 million for biofuels producers through USDA’s new Biofuel Producer Program;
     
  • $100 million for biofuels infrastructure grants; and
     
  • Billions of dollars to support a new market in sustainable aviation fuels by partnering with the federal government to advance the use of cleaner and more sustainable fuels in the United States.

According to USDA, these investments will assist in the development, transportation, and distribution of low-carbon fuels, more affordable and cleaner fuels for consumers, and better market access for producers.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On March 9, 2022, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the Home Front Energy Independence Act that would ban Russian oil and replace it with the use of biofuels produced in the United States. This bill combines parts of past bills that would make ethanol 15 (E15) available year-round, establish an E15 and Biodiesel Tax Credit, direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finalize the E15 labeling rule, and provide biofuel infrastructure and compatibility with retailers:

Several Senators co-sponsored the bill, including Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Roger Marshall (R-KS0. Senator Klobuchar stated that this bill will help to hold Vladmir Putin accountable for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while also investing in affordable, readily available biofuels produce in the United States.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On March 10, 2022, EPA issued a notice of disclosure to all obligated parties under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program that have petitioned for a small refinery exemption (SRE) or that have submitted certain RFS compliance reports. EPA will disclose information that is claimed to be, or has been determined to be confidential business information (CBI) from May 21, 2021, through December 31, 2023, to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). These records include:

  • All materials submitted by small refineries as part of petitions;
  • Any documentation that the Department of Energy (DOE) provided to EPA stating DOE’s petition findings and scores and any EPA responses thereto;
  • Any EPA record addressing the subject of the exemption petitions; and
  • EPA’s final exemption decisions sent to refineries.

GAO will destroy, delete, or return to EPA all CBI claimed documents at the conclusion of its review.

Tags: EPA, DOE, RFS, Biofuel

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On March 22, 2022, DOE announced a $34.5 million funding opportunity to improve the science and infrastructure for converting waste streams into bioproducts and biofuels that can benefit the local energy economy. DOE Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Kelly Speakes-Backman, stated that “through this investment, we see an opportunity to support the bioeconomy and the equitable transition to a clean energy economy.” The FY22 Waste Feedstock and Conversion R&D Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) encourages the development of improved organisms and inorganic catalysts to support the next generation of low-carbon biofuels and bioproducts. This FOA has four topic areas:

  • Community Scale Resource and Energy Recovery from Organic Wastes;
  • Municipal Solid Waste Feedstock Technologies;
  • Robust Catalytic Processes; and
  • Robust Microbial Cells.

DOE will accept concept papers for this FOA until 5:00 p.m. (EDT) on April 18, 2022. Applications are due by 5:00 p.m. (EDT) on June 7, 2022. Additional information on this FOA is available here.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton

On March 23, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a webinar on “Biofuel Premanufacture Notices: New Chemical Risk Assessment and Applications of Tools and Models.” As reported in our January 24, 2022, blog item, in January 2022, EPA announced an effort to streamline the review of new biobased or waste-derived chemicals that could displace current, higher greenhouse gas (GHG)-emitting transportation fuels. EPA states that to support this effort, it is offering outreach and training to stakeholders interested in biofuels. According to EPA, the bi-weekly webinar series includes reviewing requirements under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), outlining the streamlined approaches for risk assessments and risk management actions, and providing information on how to navigate the new chemicals premanufacture notice (PMN) process. EPA provided background and outlined the following challenges for each risk assessment conducted:

  • Chemistry Assessment:
    • Fuel stream and related substances are broad in number and scope, especially with the addition of current biobased and waste feedstock blends; they can be class 1, class 2, or chemical substances of unknown or variable composition, complex reaction products, and biological materials (UVCB) substances;
    • Many petroleum-derived fuel streams are on the original TSCA Inventory and there are very little data associated with them; and
    • Complete characterization of the new chemical substance is often unavailable;
  • Environmental Fate and Transport Assessment:
    • Analysis of constituents may not represent the properties of the new chemical substance;
  • Engineering Assessment: Environmental Releases:
    • EPA’s release assessment analyzes each manufacturing, processing, and use operation and determines the sources/activities that can result in releases to the environment. These release estimates are used to estimate exposure estimates for ecological and human receptors;
    • Examples of release data: (1) Measured release data; (2) Measured release data for a “surrogate” chemical; (3) Modeled release estimates; and
    • Release estimates have limitations -- examples:
      • Lack of appropriate model/method to estimate releases from specific industrial activities (e.g., storage tank emissions); and
      • Limitation in certain release models (e.g., limited to a vapor pressure threshold of 35 torr);
  • Engineering Assessment: Occupational Exposures:
    • The occupational exposure assessment estimates the magnitude, frequency, and duration of exposures to the new chemical substance at the workplace;
    • Worker inhalation and dermal exposures are expected throughout the lifecycle of the new chemical substance (e.g., manufacturing, processing, use); and
    • Exposure models do not account for some engineering controls (vapor capture/reduction);
  • Exposure Assessment: General Population and Consumer Exposures:
    • The occupational exposure assessment estimates the magnitude, frequency, and duration of exposures to the new chemical substance for the general population and consumers via inhalation and drinking water pathways; and
    • The confidence of the exposure estimates are affected by:
      • Assumptions, limitations, and areas of uncertainty in the fate and engineering analyses; and
      • Inherent uncertainties of the exposure parameters and assumptions for the estimation of the general population and consumer exposures;
  • Hazard Assessment:
    • Data on the new chemical substance or an analogous biofuel are preferred, but few submissions include toxicological or composition data;
    • EPA often lacks acute/chronic environmental test data on the new chemical substance and the analogous substances; and
    • There are challenges in performing read-across approaches and route-to-route extrapolations with analogous substances of variable composition.

For biofuel PMNs, EPA has started generating one report that combines the results of each of the above assessments. The final webinar in the series will be held April 6, 2022, on new chemicals risk management actions, including TSCA Section 5 orders and significant new use rules (SNUR).


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On March 16, 2022, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy held a hearing on “Bioenergy Research and Development for the Fuels and Chemicals of Tomorrow.” According to the hearing charter, the purpose of the hearing was to examine the status of bioenergy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) activities carried out by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The hearing also considered advancements in bioenergy research and the potential role of this resource in a cleaner energy transition. Lastly, the hearing was intended to help inform future legislation to support and guide the United States’ bioenergy RD&D enterprise. Read more in Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.’s (B&C®) March 18, 2022, memorandum, “House Committee Holds Hearing on Bioenergy RD&D for the Fuels and Chemicals of Tomorrow."


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On March 16, 2022, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy will hold a hearing on “Bioenergy Research and Development for the Fuels and Chemicals of Tomorrow.” According to the hearing charter, the purpose of the hearing is to examine the status of bioenergy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) activities carried out by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The hearing will also consider advancements in bioenergy research and the potential role of this resource in a cleaner energy transition. Lastly, the hearing will help inform future legislation to support and guide the United States’ bioenergy RD&D enterprise. Witnesses will include:

  • Dr. Jonathan Male, Chief Scientist for Energy Processes and Materials, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL);
     
  • Dr. Andrew Leakey, Director of the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign;
     
  • Dr. Laurel Harmon, Vice President of Government Affairs, LanzaTech; and
     
  • Dr. Eric Hegg, Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Michigan State University.

The hearing charter notes that in addition to fuels, biomass can be used to create valuable chemicals and materials, known as “bioproducts.” According to the hearing charter, approximately 16 percent of U.S. crude oil consumption is used to make petrochemicals and products, such as plastics for industrial and consumer goods, fertilizers, and lubricants. Common biobased products include household cleaners, paints and stains, personal care items, plastic bottles and containers, packaging materials, soaps and detergents, lubricants, clothing, and building materials. The hearing charter states that the production of bioproducts relies on much of the same feedstocks, infrastructure, feedstock commoditization, and technologies that are central to biofuels production. Therefore, according to DOE, once technologies are proven for bioproduct applications, they could be readily transferred and greatly improve biofuel production.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson 

On January 31, 2022, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and 12 of their colleagues submitted a letter to EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, regarding EPA’s RFS Annual Rules and Proposed RFS Small Refinery Exemption Decision. In the bipartisan letter, Senators Klobuchar and Grassley and their colleagues urge EPA to prioritize the RFS in support of a “homegrown energy future” by:

  1. Maintaining the blending requirements for 2022, including the 250 million gallon remand;
  2. Denying all pending SRE;
  3. Eliminating the proposed retroactive cuts to the 2020 RVO; and
  4. Setting 2021 volumes at the statutory levels.

The letter commends EPA’s efforts to better the RFS program and highlights areas with room for improvement. Of particular concern to the letter signatories is EPA’s proposal to waive retroactively 2.96 billion gallons of renewable fuel from the 2020 RVOs. The letter states that adjusting these biofuel volumes more than two years after they were finalized would set a troubling precedent and impact negatively the entire agriculture and fuel supply chain. Therefore, Klobuchar and her colleagues urge EPA to eliminate the proposed retroactive cuts to the 2020 volumes and require obligated parties to comply with the 2020 standards that were issued in final in 2019. The signatories express similar concerns with the proposal to reset retroactively authority to establish 2021 RVOs and state that EPA cannot meet its ambitious climate goals without providing for growth and certainty in the RFS.

Senators Klobuchar and Grassley and their colleagues request that EPA finalize these actions as quickly as possible to restore integrity, stability, and growth to the RFS program and the U.S. biofuel sector.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson 

On February 16, 2022, EPW held a hearing to examine EPA’s RFS program. U.S. Senator and EPW Chairman, Tom Carper (D-DE), made the opening statement, highlighting that EPW had not held an oversight hearing on the RFS since 2016. While Senator Carper demonstrated continued support for the RFS program, he also noted that “[f]or example, the amount of advanced renewable fuel used today in this country is far less than the 36 billion gallons that Congress mandated in 2007 be used by 2022. That shortfall is partly due to unforeseen market challenges and partly due to EPA’s delay in approving new fuels to enter the marketplace.” Senator Carper criticized the CAA for prohibiting some advanced biofuels that qualify for state programs from qualifying as renewable fuels under the RFS. He highlighted that volatility in compliance costs for refiners also presents challenges to implementing the RFS. The hearing included further discussions on other management and implementation challenges that EPA is facing and addressed opportunities to encourage increased deployment of more sustainable fuels.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson 

On January 27, 2022, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and 14 of her colleagues submitted a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Michael Regan, requesting that EPA reconsider its proposed actions under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program through the RFS Annual Rules and the Proposed RFS Small Refinery Exemption Decision. Senator Capito and her colleagues request specifically that EPA reassess its proposed denial of all pending small refinery exemption (SRE) petitions under the RFS program, because EPA’s decision breaches congressional intent under the Clean Air Act (CAA). According to the letter, Congress’ intent in amending the CAA to allow for SREs was to alleviate disproportionate economic hardship associated with RFS compliance for small refiners. Therefore, the denial of all pending SRE petitions contravenes Congress’ intent and, according to Senator Capito and her colleagues, will lead to increased litigation and uncertainty under the RFS program.

The letter also states that EPA’s “proposal for all-time high Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO) for 2022 does not reflect market realities and is likely to further raise costs for refiners – especially small and independent refiners – and therefore American consumers and the economy.” Senator Capito and her colleagues urge EPA to reconsider these actions to:

  • Provide relief and certainty for companies, employees, and communities across the United States;
  • Bolster access to affordable and domestically produced fuels for U.S. consumers; and
  • Remove obstacles for an economy that is challenged currently by inflation and supply chain difficulties.

 
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