White House rule delays hurting investments — advanced ethanol industry

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, May 13, 2013

White House delays in reviewing renewable fuel feedstocks are hurting investments in advanced biofuels, a coalition of advanced ethanol producers yesterday told the Office of Management and Budget.

Stalled reviews of giant reed and other feedstocks are holding up several attempts to commercialize advanced biofuels across the country, the Advanced Ethanol Council said. The group urged OMB Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell to prioritize the rules and complete them as soon as possible.

“At the outset of RFS implementation, companies forged ahead with the expectation that U.S. EPA and OMB would resolve the critical questions related to pathway eligibility in the reasonable timeframe set forth by these agencies,” AEC Executive Director Brooke Coleman wrote. “Unfortunately, this has not been the case. We now have a number of projects that are being held up by delays in the approval process, and pathway uncertainty is starting to increase investment uncertainty.”

EPA is required to approve feedstocks and technology pathways before they become eligible for credit under the renewable fuel standard. Refiners are allowed to use fuels made from approved feedstocks to meet their yearly obligations under the standard.

The delay in approving Arundo donax, known as giant reed, has held up at least one company’s ability to sign up farmers to grow the feedstock, Coleman said. EPA last year proposed to add giant reed as an approved feedstock in a direct final rule, but the agency withdrew it upon hearing concerns from environmental groups about its invasive potential.

Arundo donax is considered a noxious weed or invasive risk in several states, but not where it is being considered for biofuel production.

EPA earlier this year came to an agreement with the Interior and Agriculture departments to approve giant reed pending the adoption of risk mitigation plans that address the harvesting, monitoring, storage and transportation of the plant. The agency, though, neglected to make a final decision on Arundo donax in February when it approved a suite of new pathways (Greenwire, Feb. 25).

Coleman blamed OMB.

“Despite [the agreement], and what appears to be widespread consultation and agreement among experts at the appropriate federal resource agencies, OMB inexplicably dropped Arundo donax from the final rule,” he wrote.

The Advanced Ethanol Council is recommending that EPA and OMB approve giant reed as soon as possible, as well as come to decisions on woody biomass and sweet sorghum.

Coleman warned that the lack of pathways in the United States could send business overseas.

“It’s absolutely critical for the private investment marketplace to have a transparent, expeditious and predictable resolution process for all proposed pathways,” he said, “or we face the prospect of losing these projects to other countries.”