BIO responds to US EPA halting fuel pathway petitions for RFS

By Ron Kotrba | March 31, 2014

In March, U.S. EPA announced it is making changes to the fuel pathway petition process under the renewable fuel standard (RFS), in order to “enable more timely and efficient decision-making.” EPA is asking new petitioners to wait approximately six months before submitting new fuel pathway requests, once new guidance is issued.

The improvements include:

-Undertaking a lean government exercise to improve the quality, transparency and efficiency of the agency’s internal review processes.

-Developing improved guidance for petitioners, including step-by-step instructions and application templates for different types of petitions. One goal of the updated guidance and templates will be to help applicants provide all of the data that EPA needs to complete its assessments, while also reducing extraneous information.

-Launching a more automated review process for petitions using previously approved feedstocks and well-known production process technologies (e.g., dry mill ethanol plants).

During the six-month submission hiatus, EPA stated it intends to continue reviewing pending petitions that are “high priority,” and pending petitions for which substantial modeling has already been done. “Considering resource limitations, the agency needs to set priorities with respect to petition reviews,” EPA said. The agency is prioritizing petitions based on their ability to contribute to the cellulosic biofuel mandate; potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a per-gallon basis, for example by using feedstocks that likely do not have significant indirect land use change emissions (such as nonfood feedstocks); and ability to contribute to near-term increases in renewable fuel use, including, for example, consideration of the ability of the intended biofuel product to be readily incorporated into the existing fuel distribution network.

EPA said petitions that are similar based on the above criteria will be further prioritized based on close­ness to commercialization and date of petition submission.

In response to the announcement, Biotechnology Industry Organization urged the agency to speed up rather than slow down the petition process.

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section, said, “EPA’s effort to improve the petition process for new renewable fuel pathways under the RFS is welcome. But the agency should aim to complete this review process in a more timely manner. Advanced biofuel companies need a pathway to the fuel market in order to attract necessary investment to build and start up new production facilities that create new jobs. The lengthy wait for approval of new pathways chills job creation and investment in the sector.

“In the past four years, EPA has completed fewer than half of the 62 petitions it has received for new renewable fuel pathways under the RFS. More than 36 petitions are still awaiting action—either approval or denial—and the average time that all petitioning companies have waited is currently 17 months. Companies filing cellulosic biofuel pathway petitions have faced the longest wait times—on average 24 months. This delay has slowed deployment of new advanced biofuel technologies. Combined with the proposed rule, the proposed delay of the petition process may further undermine the development of advanced and cellulosic biofuels just as they are set to produce millions of commercial gallons and launch a rapid scale-up.”

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