Policy Updates, PM: Trump State of Union Address Jan. 30

Posted on 11/30/2017 12:55 PM

RFS announcement as expected, as are reactions.

— Trump will deliver State of Union address Jan. 30. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced he has invited President Trump to deliver his first State of the Union address on January 30. The president is invited annually to address Congress, typically in January or February.

— No surprises in official EPA announcement setting final 2018 biofuels, preliminary 2019 biodiesel levels. Total renewable fuel requirements for 2018 were set at 19.29 billion gallons, up slightly from a proposed level of 19.24 billion gallons, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a level which reflects a slight increase in the level of advanced biofuels compared to levels that were proposed by the Trump administration earlier this year. The levels match expectations that surfaced in the past 24 hours ahead of the announcement. Link to EPA release.

Details: EPA left its 2019 biodiesel mandate at 2.1 billion gallons, unchanged from its July proposal and 2018. USDA raised its advanced biofuels mandate, which includes biodiesel, for 2018 to 4.29 billion gallons, up 50 million gallons from its July proposal and up 10 million gallons from this year. EPA set the 2018 conventional biofuels (mostly corn-based ethanol) mandate at 15 billion gallons, unchanged from its original proposal and 2017, as expected.

Reactions to the announcement from EPA were as expected, with biofuel backers hailing the move but also criticizing the administration for not expanding the requirements further. "Congress intended for the RFS to drive growth in biofuels across all categories," said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). "Contrary to that goal, this final rule does little to encourage investment and growth in advanced biofuels. I'm glad that EPA backed off [the initial] proposal, which would have represented an abandonment of President Trump’s stated commitment to biofuels and the integrity of the RFS.

Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said, "We applaud the administration for standing up against efforts to destabilize the Renewable Fuel Standard," she stated. "The EPA’s on-time announcement upholds the statutory targets for conventional biofuels, which will provide much-needed certainty for hard-pressed rural communities. We would like to have seen a boost to the target blending levels for cellulosic biofuels, and we will continue to work with the administration to advance the RFS goal of further stimulating growth and showing U.S. leadership in 21st century fuels."


The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) similarly welcomed the 15-billion-gallon conventional ethanol component, according to a statement from RFA President and CEO Bob Dineen. “It is also encouraging that EPA appears to have absorbed the tens of thousands of comments from American ethanol producers, farmers, consumers, veterans, and others who suggested the proposed rule was unnecessarily pessimistic with regard to the total renewable fuel volumes, and cellulosic ethanol volumes specifically," he noted. "The final rule is a marked improvement, increasing both total renewable fuel and cellulosic biofuel volumes by 50 million gallons over the proposed levels. Still, we would encourage EPA to closely monitor the commercialization of new cellulosic technologies, particularly regarding corn kernel fiber conversion, because we believe greater cellulosic production is likely. The RFS needs to remain a forward-looking program, driving investment in these new technologies."


The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) expressed disappointment that the requirements for biomass-based biodiesel were not increased as the group has pushed. "EPA Administrator Pruitt has disappointed the biodiesel industry for failing to respond to our repeated calls for growth," said NBB COO Doug Whitehead. "These flat volumes will harm Americans across several job-creating sectors – be they farmers, grease collectors, crushers, biodiesel producers or truckers – as well as consumers." He pledged the group would continue to work with the administration to "right this wrong for future volumes."

Petroleum interests seeking changes to the law were also disappointed in EPA's announcement. "The Renewable Fuel Standard is broken and needs comprehensive reform," said American Petroleum Institute (API) Downstream Group Director Frank Macchiarola. "Since the RFS was instituted more than a decade ago the US has greatly reduced its dependence on crude oil imports. So this program is trying to solve a problem that no longer exists while creating real problems for consumers. Administrator Pruitt, therefore, faces the daunting task of implementing a broken program that was based on incorrect assumptions made over a decade ago." He further called on Congress to act on legislation to reform the program.


The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) was similarly critical, with President and CEO Chet Thompson saying in a statement, "Unfortunately, it appears that EPA did exactly what Senator Grassley demanded, bowing the knee to King Corn. We think this action is bad for U.S. manufacturing and American consumers and encourages Congress to finally fix the RFS."


— Other items of note:

·         Barton will not seek re-election. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said he will not seek re-election next year after a naked selfie and his private Facebook messages were made public. Barton told the Dallas Morning News in an interview he will retire, a swift change from several weeks ago, when the longtime congressman said he planned to run again in 2018.

·         Pelosi, Ryan Call on Conyers to exit Congress. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is calling on Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to step down, after a former Conyers aide made public her allegations of sexual harassment against the veteran congressman. "I pray for Congressman Conyers and his family and wish them well," Pelosi said at her weekly news conference. "However, Congressman Conyers should resign." Pelosi's comments were echoed by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) who said Conyers should "resign immediately." Conyers is in the hospital for stress amid multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. "Nancy Pelosi did not elect the congressman and she sure as hell won't be the one to tell the congressman to leave," Conyers' lawyer, Arnold Reed, said. Reed also suggested that the calls for Conyers' resignation are racially motivated.

·         Another Franken accuser comes forward. An Army veteran has come forward to accuse Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) of groping her during a photo opportunity in 2003 before he was in the Senate. Stephanie Kemplin told CNN that the incident occurred while she was stationed in the Middle East during the Iraq War and when Franken was on tour with a USO show. Kemplin said she stood in line to have her picture taken with the former Saturday Night Live star who traveled several times to perform for troops. "When he put his arm around me, he groped my right breast. He kept his hand all the way over on my breast," Kemplin told CNN. "I've never had a man put their arm around me and then cup my breast. So he was holding my breast on the side." Kemplin, now 41, says she was embarrassed by what happened. She is the fifth woman to accuse Franken of groping or forcible kissing in the past two weeks. Franken's office told the network that the senator "takes thousands of photos and has met thousands of people and he has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct," adding Franken is "fully committed to cooperating" with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation.

·         U.S.-China economic dialogue program has ‘stalled’: Trump official. The Trump administration has put its main program for bolstering economic relations with China on ice as it complains about the two countries’ swollen trade imbalance and says Beijing’s efforts to liberalize its economy have gone into reverse. David Malpass, a top economic diplomat for the administration, said in an interview with the Financial Times that the Comprehensive Economic Dialogue (CED) with Beijing is “stalled” and that there are no plans to revive talks.

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