In a development that will increase liquidity and transparency in the RIN market, two major providers are making RIN future contracts available to be traded. Both CME Group and the IntercontinentalExchange (ICE) will have RIN products available to be traded by mid May. CME Group and ICE will enable over the counter trading (OTC) of D4 RINs, D5 RINs, and D6 RINs. D6 RINs are the most common RINs, typically fulfilled by corn ethanol production. D5 RINs are the most flexible premium RINs, representing advanced biofuel that may consist of biogas, advanced drop in fuels, or other fuel types that meet the 50% GHG reduction standard. D4 RINs are biomass-based diesel RINs, fulfilled primarily by biodiesel and renewable diesel fuels. The development of a futures market could provide a substantial boost to the development of advanced biofuel facilities by enabling their financing. Many financial market participants have in the past regarded RIN revenue as too speculative to include in a plant's pro forma but are likely to be reassured by the presence of RINs in the OTC market. We speculated in our recent white paper that the EPA's rulemaking on Quality Assurance Programs (QAPs) could facilitate the establishment of a RIN futures market. See http://www.stoel.com/showarticle.aspx?Show=10180
Last Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency released its proposed rule for the 2013 Renewable Fuel Standard (“RFS2”) volume obligations. Every year the EPA is required to determine and publish the annual volume requirements for each class of renewable fuel that obligated parties will have to comply with for the upcoming year under the RFS2 program. The volumes required under the proposed rule for 2013 are as follows (generally in ethanol equivalent volume): 14 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel, 1.28 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel (actual volume), 2.75 billion gallons of advanced biofuel, and 16.55 billion gallons of renewable fuel. As always the categories are nested and the advanced biofuel volume includes the volumes set for the cellulosic and biomass-based diesel categories. The renewable fuel category accounts for all renewable fuel including traditional corn starch ethanol.
Three of the four categories are consistent with the volumes set forth by statute. The volume for cellulosic biofuel, however, is set by this rule because it must be the lesser of the statutory volume and EPA’s projection of industry production for any given year. As with each ruling prior to this one under the program, EPA set a dramatically lower cellulosic biofuel volume than the statutory volume based on its assessment of the industry’s status. Rather than 1 billion gallons as would otherwise be required by statute, EPA is requiring obligated parties to account for 14 million gallons of cellulosic fuel. Despite the dramatic reduction from the statutory requirement, this is significant because it is an increase over the 2012 standard of 10.45 million gallons that has been the subject of considerable recent controversy.
Just a few days earlier, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that EPA impermissibly set the 2012 standard with an eye toward promoting industry growth when, by statute, the agency should have simply made an accurate projection of what the industry could produce in the given year. While petitioners in that case asserted that the EPA volume for cellulosic ethanol should be equivalent to that which the Energy Information Administration (“EIA”) projects, the court instead determined that EPA’s projected volume should be simply based on the EIA projections.
In developing the 2013 requirement for cellulosic ethanol, the EPA relied on EIA estimates but also its analysis of more than 100 biofuel production facilities. The proposed rule includes a detailed analysis of all of the plants currently registered with EPA and able to produce cellulosic RINs. Of those 6 plants, it assumes two (INEOS Bio and KiOR) will be generating cellulosic biofuel RINs in 2013 in an amount equal to 14 million gallons of ethanol. The EIA estimate for 2013 is 13.1 million gallons of ethanol – which is also nearly exclusively based on production from those two plants.
Although the EPA also has authority to reduce the advanced biofuel category based on its decision to reduce the cellulosic biofuel category, the agency decided to keep the broader category at the statutory volume based on its projections of other domestic advanced renewable fuels as well as the ability to import sugarcane ethanol from Brazil. Comments on the proposed rule must be received no later than 45 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register.
The EPA has issued proposed RFS2 rules for 2011 that provide some indications that the agency is dedicated to jump starting the advanced biofuels industry. Most notably, the EPA held fast to an overall mandate of 13.95 billion gallons of renewable fuel. While the agency intends to deviate downward on cellululosic biofuels with a cut of 90% or more anticipated, the proposed rule maintains the overall Advanced biofuel mandate at 1.35 billion gallons and the Biomass-based diesel requirement at 800 million gallons. Thus the agency is paying significant attention to the existing capacity of the biodiesel industry despite the lack of approval for the blender's credit six months into the year. Biofuel supporters hope that this policy gap will be addressed shortly or that RIN values will continue to increase for Biomass based diesel.
The proposed rule contains two other notable components: tentative but retroactive RIN credit for canola, sorghum, pulpwood and palm oil biofuel producers; and a petition process for foreign countries to avoid the onerous feedstock obligations that now apply in favor of the aggregate approach available within the US. The referenced feedstocks have been under consideration by EPA for Life Cycle Analysis since prior to the original RFS2 Final Rule was released but the work has still not been completed. The severe challenge for this group of biofuel producers is that EPA has previously indicated that RIN generation would trigger only when the pathway was certified. EPA's proposed new flexibility is an improvement but still falls short of providing full RIN value for these producers due to the lag time and uncertainty associated with the approach. The proposed petition process for foreign countries is an apparent attempt to level the playing field for foreign producers who now must trace and certify feedstocks such as soy and corn in a manner not required within the US.
The rules will be published in the Federal Register shortly and the public comment period will likely run to approximately August 13th.
Last week, the US EPA extended the rulemaking period on RFS 2 until September 25, 2009. This extends the period by 60 days. While this rulemaking is highly complicated and contentious, it is unclear that extending the comment period will improve this situation. In addition, the effective date of the regulations continues to be delayed. This could undermine Congress' intentions in passing the Energy Independence and Security Act that established RFS 2. Let's hope EPA is able to move quickly and efficiently in finalizing and implementing the regulations.
In an earlier blog, my colleague, Debra Frimerman reported about the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). REAP provides grants and loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to purchase renewable energy systems, make energy efficiency improvements and conduct feasibility studies for renewable energy systems.
REAP is a program under the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (the "2008 Farm Bill"). The 2008 Farm Bill also includes numerous other programs to help develop renewable energy in rural areas and promote the production of sustainable feedstocks for renewable energy production. Please see this recent alert for specifics.
The California Air Resources Board may soon get its wish. Back in 2005, ARB first requested a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to allow California to regulate motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. EPA denied the waiver two years later, after California threatened to sue EPA to force the agency to take action on the request. The very day after President Obama's inauguration into office, ARB filed with EPA a request for reconsideration of its waiver request. Several days later, President Obama himself signed a Presidential Memorandum directing EPA to assess whether denial of the waiver was appropriate in light of the Clean Air Act. Last Friday, Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA, issued a Notice for Public Hearing and Comment on California's request for consideration of the previous waiver denial, which officially initiates reconsideration by EPA. Discussion at the public hearing on March 5, 2009 may get interesting, as the Notice's 'supplementary information' included a brief discussion on how the waiver denial had "significantly departed from EPA's longstanding interpretation of the Clean Air Act's waiver provisions and from the Agency's history, after appropriate review, of granting waivers to California for its new motor vehicle emission program." Stay tuned.
California ARB's request for a waiver is premised on the Clean Air Act provision that allows states to enact stricter motor vehicle emission standards than the federal government's, provided EPA has approved a waiver for the state to do so. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA must grant a waiver unless it finds that the state:
- was arbitrary and capricious in its finding that its proposed standards are in the aggregate at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable federal standards,
- does not need such standards to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions, or
- has proposed standards not consistent with section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act.
In denying ARB's original waiver request, the EPA administrator at the time, Stephen Johnson, noted that President Bush had just signed an energy bill that would work to reduce emissions throughout the U.S. and that increased fuel economy standards. The energy bill increased fuel efficiency for new cars and light trucks by 40% by 202, to an average of 35 mpg. This is in fact the biggest increase by Congress in fuel economy standards since the program was created in 1975. As Johnson announced in December 2007, "The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules." It's true that if the waiver is granted, California would enact a more stringent fuel economy standard than in any other state. But, 16 other states have pledged that if California can move forward with its higher standard, they would in turn adopt California's standard as their own.