Here’s an update on recent news items and other public policy developments relating to the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), and other U.S. and international biofuel policies.
EPA issues LCA data for possible RFS barley pathway. The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a Notice of Data Availability to release the results of its lifecycle analysis under the RFS of the use of barley to produce ethanol. According to EPA’s analysis, when barley is used as feedstock at ethanol facilities that use natural gas for all process energy, are powered by grid electricity, and dry 100% of their distillers grains, the resulting fuel meets the 20% greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction threshold required by the RFS to qualify as a conventional “renewable fuel” as defined in the RFS. Furthermore, under certain process conditions, barley ethanol is can achieve the 50% GHG reduction threshold so that it would qualify an “advanced biofuel” under the RFS. EPA is making the information available for public comment, as the first step in possible rulemaking to establish these processes as pathways under the RFS qualified to generate RINs. More information: Ethanol Producer Magazine, EPA website.
House Committee issues final RFS White Paper; Subcommittee schedules hearing. The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee released its fifth and final white paper in a series of paper’s reviewing the renewable fuel standard (RFS). The focus of the fifth white paper is on the Implementation Issues of the RFS. The white paper poses 7 questions for stakeholder comment, with responses requested by Friday, July 26. Also, the Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power has scheduled a two-day hearing for Tuesday, July 23 and Wednesday, July 24, on a topic entitled “Overview of the Renewable Fuel Standard: Stakeholder Perspectives.” The preliminary witness list indicates that stakeholders on both sides of the RFS debate will be included, although there appears to be a slight bias towards those opposed to the RFS.
California Appeals Court rules against Air Resources Board on Low Carbon Fuel Standard. In one of the two pending court cases relating to the California LCFS, a state appeals court has ruled that the California Air Resources Board (ARB) violated several provisions of state law when it adopted the LCFS in 2009. Specifically, these were procedural violations of the state’s Environmental Quality Act and Administrative Procedures Act. In its ruling on this case, which was brought by the ethanol producer POET against the state, the Appeals Court decided to allow the LCFS regulations to remain in place but required ARB to complete the administrative actions which it failed to carry out when originally adopting the rules. For more information: Biofuels Digest, California Environmental Law Blog.
EU Environment Committee approves package of amendments to RED, to be voted by full Parliament in September. On July 11, the Environment Committee of the European Parliament voted to accept the proposal of its Rappateur Corinne Lepage regarding the proposed amendments to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and its companion legislation the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). The Committee voted to impose a 5.5% ceiling on the amount of food-based biofuels that would count towards the overall goal under the RED of 10% renewable fuels across the EU (originally proposed at 5%). The Committee also adopted a 2% target for advanced biofuels, while apparently retaining the proposed multiple counting mechanism (e.g. quadruple-counting) for such fuels. The Committee recommended that consideration of indirect land use change be made mandatory beginning in 2020. Also adopted was a recommended amendment to the FQD that would require fuel producers to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuels by 9% by the end of 2025, up from the current requirement of 6% by 2020. The Committee’s proposal will be debated and voted on by the full Parliament in September. Reaction to the Committee action was predictable. Although there was fairly broad support for the advanced biofuel sub-target, trade groups representing corn ethanol or biodiesel producers were critical of the proposed cap on food-based biofuels, which they viewed as detrimental to the continued growth of that sector of the biofuel industry. For more information: Biofuels Digest, Ethanol Producer Magazine, DomesticFuel.com.
Federal Appeals Court throws out EPA’s “Deferral Rule” for biogenic carbon emissions. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an opinion which vacated a 2011 EPA regulation governing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions arising from biofuel production or other industrial uses of biomass. The vacated regulation arose from EPA’s 2010 action to begin regulating GHG emissions from existing facilities. These regulations, known as the “Tailoring Rule,” specified that facilities that emit more than 100,000 tons of CO2 per year were required to obtain permits from EPA under the Clean Air Act. This led the National Alliance of Forest Owners to file a petition asking EPA to review this requirement for biomass-burning facilities, on the basis that the CO2 emitted from such factories arose from “biogenic” sources (i.e. fixation of atmospheric carbon by plants) rather than from fossil carbon, and thus had a net zero carbon emissions. In response to the petition, EPA decided in 2011 to defer for three years any permitting requirements for facilities burning or utilizing biomass, to allow the agency the time to study the issues and determine the best approach to regulating emissions arising from such “biogenic carbon”. In throwing out the Deferral Rule, the Court noted that EPA misapplied applicable law and did not have the statutory authority to regulate biogenic carbon emissions any differently than fossil-derived carbon emissions, although the Court’s opinion noted that EPA may have had other avenues for imposing less onerous restrictions on biomass-burning plants, such as providing a route for biomass plants to obtain waivers from permit requirements. The impact of the Court’s decision is not clear, especially since EPA has been moving forward with its study of the issue in the years since 2011, and was scheduled to issue regulations for biogenic carbon by July 2014. Absent any further action by EPA or appeal of the Court decision, it appears that any biomass-burning plant emitting more than 100,000 tons of CO2 per year will need to obtain a permit, just as fossil-carbon burning plants exceeding this threshold must now do. More information: Biomass Magazine, Politico.com.
D. Glass Associates, Inc. is a consulting company specializing in government and regulatory support for renewable fuels and industrial biotechnology. David Glass, Ph.D. is a veteran of over thirty years in the biotechnology industry, with expertise in industrial biotechnology regulatory affairs, U.S. and international renewable fuels regulation, patents, technology licensing, and market and technology assessments. Dr. Glass also serves as director of regulatory affairs for Joule Unlimited Technologies, Inc. More information on D. Glass Associates’ government and regulatory consulting capabilities, and copies of some of Dr. Glass’s prior presentations on biofuels and biotechnology regulation, are available at www.slideshare.net/djglass99 and at www.dglassassociates.com. The views expressed in this blog are those of Dr. Glass and D. Glass Associates and do not represent the views of Joule Unlimited Technologies, Inc. or any other organization with which Dr. Glass is affiliated. Please visit our other blog, Advanced Biotechnology for Biofuels.