On November 26, 2013, the Obama Administration released its biannual regulatory agenda for all federal agencies. A copy of the agenda is available online. EPA listed several top regulatory priorities, including "taking actions on toxics and chemical safety." The Agency states that it intends to take actions to protect chemical facility safety and security and that it "plans to take a range of identified regulatory actions for certain chemicals and assess other chemicals to determine if risk reduction action is needed to address potential concerns." EPA also lists in the agenda several specific upcoming final regulatory actions it intends to take, including:
• Issuing the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) rule, expected by February 2014; and
• Issuing additional RFS pathways.
On November 29, 2013, EPA published its proposed rule on "2014 Standards for the Renewable Fuel Standard Program" and a "Notice of Receipt of Petitions for a Waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard." Copies of the proposed rule and notice published in the Federal Register are available online, and online. Comments on both are due by January 28, 2014.
BRAG's coverage of the pre-published versions of the proposed rule and notice is available online.
On December 5, 2013, EPA held a public hearing in Arlington, Virginia, on the proposed rule. The Agency heard from more than 140 stakeholders from every side of the RFS debate, including public officials and farmers, as well as company executives and trade associations representing the corn, biofuels, and oil and gas industries. Witness testimony was generally consistent with previous public comments.
For instance, representatives from the oil and gas industry expressed concern that the proposed rule does not go far enough. They argued generally that even with the proposed reductions to all renewable fuel volume obligations (RVO), the E10 blend wall could still be breached, which would force a restriction in gasoline availability and higher prices at the pump for consumers. A representative from the Union of Concerned Scientists pointed out that EPA should place more emphasis on the market potential of E85 as a solution to the blend wall concerns and option to help meet the statutory RFS RVOs. Representatives from the biofuels industry argued that EPA should revise the proposed rule and include higher RVOs more consistent with the RVO targets included in the RFS statute for 2014. They argued these revisions are needed to protect ongoing investment in the further development and commercialization of U.S. biofuels, especially advanced and cellulosic biofuels.
On November 19, 2013, EPA's request for comment on its Draft FY 2014-2018 Strategic Plan was published in the Federal Register. In addition, according to the notice, EPA is proposing new FY 2014-2015 Agency Priority Goals. Comments are due by January 3, 2014. A copy of the notice is available online.
As described in the notice, "The Strategic Plan provides the Agency's long-term direction and strategies for advancing human health and the environment." In addition, EPA has made targeted revisions to "[its] existing Plan that seek to advance efforts to address our changing climate, protect our precious water and land resources, and advance chemical safety."
On Wednesday, November 13, 2013, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy testified as the sole witness before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on "Strengthening Transparency and Accountability within the Environmental Protection Agency."
While the hearing was held as part of the Committee's annual oversight of EPA, it provided Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) an opportunity to question McCarthy on several concerns he reportedly had with EPA and appropriate transparency at the Agency. These included reports of EPA officials' use of outside e-mail addresses to conduct business, and questions following EPA's "insufficient" response to a subpoena last summer requesting information about the Agency's confidential health studies that form the basis for EPA regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Assessments of EPA's performance during the hearing fell along party lines. Committee Democrats led by Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) have publicly criticized Chair Smith for his criticisms of the Agency.
Administrator McCarthy's nomination was held up for several months due to concerns by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Ranking Member David Vitter (D-LA) over sufficient transparency at EPA. It was allowed to go through after Administrator McCarthy pledged to bolster transparency at EPA under her leadership.
On Thursday, November 14, 2013, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Energy and Power, chaired by Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY), held a hearing to discuss EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas standards for new power plants and draft legislation authored by Chairman Whitfield and Senator Joe Manchin. The hearing included three panels of ten witnesses, including Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and EPA Acting Administrator for Air and Radiation Janet McCabe, to discuss a potential legislative proposal by Subcommittee Chair Whitfield and Senator Manchin that would effectively prohibit EPA from promulgating or enforcing its recently released proposed rule to regulate GHG emissions from new power plants and make regulation of GHGs from existing plants contingent on Congressional approval.
Several states and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, support the Whitfield-Manchin proposal. Information on the hearing, including a list of witnesses and the draft legislation, may be found online.
On October 30, 2013, Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Peter Welch (R-VT), and Steve Womack (R-AR) sent a letter signed by 169 Members of Congress to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy urging EPA to use its authority to reduce the 2014 statutory renewable volume obligations (RVO) for all types of biofuels, including conventional corn starch ethanol under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). A copy of the letter is available online.
The arguments made in the letter echo those put forth by the oil and gas industry and assert that the 2014 RVO reductions are needed to protect against corn price volatility and the E10 ethanol blend wall.
The letter comes at a crucial time in RFS advocacy. The oil and gas industry is leading the effort to repeal or weaken the RFS through regulatory, legal, and legislative channels, while the biofuels industry is fighting to maintain the policy, arguing that it is the fundamental driver of investment in the industry and that it provides EPA sufficient regulatory flexibility to make all necessary adjustments in its implementation. Further, the biofuels industry notes that no reductions in the conventional RVOs are needed as the RFS has minimal impact on corn prices and there are sufficient mechanisms for 2014 compliance. In addition, many in the biofuels industry argue that the concerns about the E10 blend wall are misplaced, as it exists because the oil and gas industry has refused to make or encourage the necessary investments to enable additional ethanol to be blended into the fuel supply.
A copy of Growth Energy's press release and the Renewable Fuels Association's (RFA) statement on the letter are available online and online.
On November 1, 2013, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), Growth Energy, and RFA filed a motion to intervene on behalf of EPA in the current lawsuit by Monroe Energy, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) challenging EPA's final rule establishing the 2013 RVOs under the federal RFS. The filing was made in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where the case is pending. Copies of press releases issued by BIO, Growth Energy, and RFA are available online.
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 the first day of its new term on October 15, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would grant review of parts of EPA's greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations. The Court will review part of the June 2012 decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which upheld EPA's GHG program. It will review whether EPA's GHG regulations for motor vehicles should have triggered Prevention of Significant Deterioration permitting for stationary sources. The case and its outcome could impact the current efforts of the Obama Administration to develop and finalize new GHG regulations for new and existing stationary sources. It is reported that the Court is likely to hear arguments in the first few months of the new year.
On Tuesday, October 8, 2013, the American Petroleum Institute (API) filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit Court) challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) final rule setting the 2013 renewable volume obligations (RVO) under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). While the petition for review lacks details about the lawsuit as such petitions are for notice purposes only, it is reported that API's main arguments against the rule will be that it was issued too late to be effective and that the 2013 cellulosic RVO set at six million gallons is higher than cellulosic gallons available on the market.
Under the RFS, EPA must issue the following year's RVOs by November 30. EPA did not release its final 2013 RFS rule setting all of this year's RVOs until August 6, 2013. Earlier this year, the D.C. Circuit Court directed EPA to set the cellulosic gallon requirement to levels of actual production expected based on company and other information. The court stated that EPA could not set the volumes at the maximum level of production possible to drive production.
API has been advocating for the full repeal of the RFS on legislative, regulatory, and legal levels. It also challenged EPA's 2011 and 2012 final RFS rules in court. In August 2013, API, along with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), petitioned EPA to grant a partial waiver of the yet-to-be-proposed 2014 RFS RVOs.
Several biofuel trade groups have responded to this latest legal challenge. Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) denounced the lawsuit. In its press release, available online, RFA called it a "lawsuit in search of a problem."