Biofuels pivot under Biden – POLITICO – Politico

01/26/2021 10:00 AM EST

Updated 01/26/2021 02:19 PM EST


With help from Alex Guillén, Annie Snider and Samantha Maldonado

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— Ethanol advocates are pushing for the new Biden administration to boost the portion of each gallon of gasoline that comes from corn.

— House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone on Monday said Democrats in Congress intend to include major climate change provisions as part of an upcoming infrastructure package.

— The developer of the first major U.S. offshore wind farm is asking the Biden administration to restart its permitting process for the project off the coast of Massachusetts after it was stopped under Trump.

GOOD MORNING! IT’S TUESDAY. I’m your host, Kelsey Tamborrino. Congrats to Shane Schulz at QEP Resources on the trivia win. There are four commonwealths in the United States: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Kentucky. For today: What’s the most commonly used letter in the English language? Send your tips and trivia answers to [email protected].

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WHAT WILL BIDEN DO ABOUT BIOFUELS? President Joe Biden’s plan to build out electric vehicle charging infrastructure and speed adoption of EVs will hasten the decline of gasoline consumption. That’s got ethanol advocates pushing hard for boosting the portion of each gallon of gasoline that comes from corn, Pro’s Eric Wolff reports this morning.

“It’s all about an increasing share of a shrinking tank,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, an ethanol trade association. “In the short term, it’s moving from E10 to E15 blend. That’s 7 billion gallons in demand. That would turn us around right there.”

Trade groups see their best near-term opportunity for recovery, after the pandemic slammed all transportation fuels, by pushing for wider adoption of 15 percent ethanol fuel, as well as lobbying the Biden administration officials to promote high fuel efficient engines that would boost demand for ethanol to increase gasoline octane levels.

Skor will deliver a keynote speech today at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Annual Summit, where she’ll highlight opportunities for the Biden administration, which she says “campaigned and won on a promise to promote biofuels,” according to excerpts of her remarks shared with ME. “An effective climate strategy must recognize the critical role biofuels play in decarbonizing our transportation sector and bring our farmers into the fold in addressing the climate crisis,” she’ll say.

But ethanol proponents will have to square off against the oil industry, which has not to this point focused much on efficiency rules, as well as against some of the biggest environmental groups that have largely stayed out of the Renewable Fuel Standard battles of the last four years.

The green groups put their weight behind zero-emission EVs and see little purpose in continuing to use internal combustion engines. “We need to move as quickly as possible to zero emission vehicles,” said Katherine Garcia, deputy director for the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All Campaign. “We need to be reducing oil production and then this idea of the biofuels — we do not need a bridge fuel.”

EPA TO HOLD BELATED MLK DAY EVENT: The agency will hold an event observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Wednesday, more than a week after the federal holiday occurred. There will be a virtual staff panel on “the current state of Civil Rights and its path forward,” according to a mailer obtained by ME. A source at the agency said EPA typically holds an event around the holiday but did not this year. As POLITICO first reported on Friday, EPA also revived a speaker series on structural racism and environmental justice after Biden rescinded an executive order that had blocked much race-related training.

FED BOARD TAPS N.Y. FED OFFICIAL: The Federal Reserve board in Washington has hired Kevin Stiroh from the New York Fed to lead a new committee focused on supervising banks for financial risks posed by climate change, Pro’s Victoria Guida reports. Stiroh, who is head of supervision at the regional Fed bank, will chair the newly formed Supervision Climate Committee, which will include “senior staff across the Federal Reserve Board and Reserve Banks,” according to the New York Fed press release.

GREENS SEEK TO IMMEDIATELY REINSTATE CAFE PENALTY HIKE: The Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council sued the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over its Jan. 14 rule (Reg. 2127-AM32) that delayed reinstating an increase in CAFE noncompliance penalties until model year 2022 vehicles. Following a court ruling that required the penalties be increased, the Trump administration reasoned that automakers have already locked in plans for MY2021. The rule was briefly open for public comment, so it is possible the Biden administration could use adverse comments to quickly rethink the rule to speed up the penalty hike. Still, the green groups are pursuing litigation in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit as well, with Sierra Club Chief Climate Counsel Joanne Spalding calling the Trump rule “a giveaway to recalcitrant automakers.”

LISTEN UP: Before being appointed to EPA’s Office of Water last week, then-U.S. Water Alliance President Radhika Fox did a podcast interview with Signal Water’s Mae Stevens, in which she laid out her vision for addressing the country’s water challenges. She called for direct assistance to water utilities to help deal with the repercussions of the coronavirus epidemic, help for low-income families struggling to afford access to drinking water and wastewater, and a focus on the impacts climate change has on water, from flooding to sea-level rise.

MORE EXECUTIVE ACTION AHEAD: The White House is expected to take action today to further tribal consultations as part of its equity push, according to a planning document from last week. Biden is slated to announce a host of orders related to equity today, including directing federal agencies to strengthen engagement with tribal governments. Tribal advocates have called on the new administration to recognize the importance and sweep of their sovereign rights.

Buy the way: Biden signed an executive order on Monday tightening the rules of the Buy American program by instructing the federal government to spend more of its procurement budget on U.S.-made products. During remarks on the order, Biden said his administration would make “historic” investments in research and development to give the U.S. an edge in markets where global leadership is “up for grabs,” including in clean energy and battery technology. “The federal government also owns an enormous fleet of vehicles, which we’re going to replace with clean, electric vehicles made right here in America, by American workers, creating millions of jobs,” he said.

The executive order signed Monday does not include language directing the purchase of electric vehicles. The White House did not respond to a request for further information.

PALLONE’S CLIMATE ACTION PUSH: The Democratic-controlled Congress intends to include major climate change provisions as part of an infrastructure package in the coming months, E&C Chair Frank Pallone said Monday, as Pro’s Anthony Adragna reports. “Our committee and myself are really accelerating our efforts to address climate change,” Rep. Pallone (D-N.J.) said during a virtual roundtable in New Jersey. “Within another month or so, there’ll be a major infrastructure initiative as part of an effort to bring it back and revise the economy,” and will include many provisions from last year’s House-passed infrastructure bill, H.R. 2 (116).

Pallone said his committee’s sweeping climate change legislative framework from the last Congress would serve as the “blueprint” for additional action this year, though he cautioned the scope of any legislation could be more limited if Democrats decide to advance their priorities through budget reconciliation. He also doubted a clean energy standard that mandates the share of energy that is derived from different sources could be structured in a way to be included in legislation considered under reconciliation.

MUSICAL CHAIRS: Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree will chair the powerful House Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for funding the EPA and Interior Department, Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) announced Monday. Pingree takes the spot previously held by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who will now lead the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) will continue to lead the Energy and Water Subcommittee, Anthony also reports for Pros.

Related: Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee also announced their membership Monday, including adding eight Republicans new to the committee.

ON WITH THE WIND: Vineyard Wind asked the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Monday to resume the federal permitting process for the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind 1, after the Trump administration halted the process last month. The company, a joint venture between Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, notified BOEM it is rescinding its December request to temporarily withdraw the construction and operations plan for the project, which would be the the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the U.S., as it proceeded with a final technical review of GE’s Haliade-X wind turbine generators. Shortly after that request, BOEM terminated the permitting process for the project.

“We have completed our final review and determined that no changes to the COP are necessary as a consequence of selecting the GE Haliade-X Turbine for the project,” Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said in a statement Monday. “Since there are no changes required to the COP, we expect that BOEM can finalize their review based on the extensive analysis and studies of the project over the last three years.”

The decision, of course, now falls to the Biden administration. Asked if BOEM will proceed with the federal permitting process or if Vineyard Wind would need to submit a new plan, as the agency signaled under former President Donald Trump, the agency declined comment to ME on Monday. Vineyard Wind said it still expects to finalize the project in the second half of this year and to begin delivering clean energy to Massachusetts in 2023.

BIG COMPANIES WANT GREENER POWER MARKETS: Walmart, Johnson & Johnson, Amazon and dozens of other large corporations on Monday asked the Biden administration to expand organized wholesale energy markets to speed delivery of clean and renewable energy and lower the cost of electricity to large buyers, Pro’s Nancy Vu reports. The policy statement, developed by the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, is the first of its kind from the membership association.

PENNEAST PUNT: The Supreme Court didn’t decide whether to take up a case involving the proposed PennEast pipeline’s route in New Jersey after the justices conferenced on Friday. The nation’s highest court could review the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that under the Natural Gas Act, the company couldn’t condemn state-owned land in New Jersey to build the natural gas pipeline. The justices’ next conference will be Feb. 19.

Until then, the pipeline is stalled and construction cannot begin, even in Pennsylvania. Last week, FERC — which had previously sided with PennEast in the legal despite — dropped from its agenda an item related to approving the company’s two-phase plan that would allow construction to start in Pennsylvania.

NY PENSION FUNDS ANNOUNCE DIVESTMENT: Roughly two years after setting a goal to drop fossil fuel funds, the New York City Employees’ Retirement System and New York City Teachers’ Retirement System announced Monday they will sell off about $4 billion in those holdings from their portfolios, putting the fossil fuel divestment movement on the verge of one of its biggest victories, Pro’s David Giambusso reports. The New York City Board of Education Retirement System is expected to do the same “imminently,” according to a joint announcement from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer. The city has yet to identify which companies it will drop, but will do so after the shares have been sold.

BY THE NUMBERS: A new working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Duke University researchers found that suspending utility shutoffs reduces Covid-19 infections by 4.4 percent and mortality rates by 7.4 percent. Had a nationwide utility shut-off moratorium been in place from early March last year through the end of November, the study estimated it could have reduced infection rates by 8.7 percent and deaths by 14.8 percent. The research comes as hundreds of environmental, racial justice and labor groups called on the Biden administration earlier this month to halt utility shut-offs nationwide.

Emma Stewart joins the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association as chief scientist, replacing Craig Miller, who is retiring to academia as a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Stewart most recently served as associate program leader of defense infrastructure at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

David Slater, president and chief operating officer of DTE Midstream, was elected to chair the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America for a one-year term.

— “New U.S. strategy would quickly free billions in climate funds,” via The New York Times.

— “Duke Energy customers to save $1.1 billion in settlement over coal ash cleanup costs,” via The News and Observer.

— “SoCal Edison reaches $2.2 billion settlement for Woolsey Fire,” via Bloomberg.

— “John Kerry promises ‘significantly’ more climate finance at adaptation summit,” via Climate Home News.

— “Elon Musk tells Fortune he’s ‘super fired up’ about Biden,” via Fortune.

— “Shell to acquire UK’s largest electric vehicle charging network,” via Reuters.

THAT’S ALL FOR ME!

CORRECTION: An earlier version of Morning Energy misstated the ethanol volume demand in a quote from Emily Skor.

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