COP 23 Delegates Look to Agricultural Landscapes for Solutions to Climate Change

A major breakthrough occurred at the 2017 global climate talks (COP 23), which concluded in Bonn, Germany, last Saturday – approval was granted to establish an agricultural work program.

COP 23 delegates directed the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) to “address issues related to agriculture.”

What this means, is that the delegates officially recognized the need to address agricultural adaptation and mitigation challenges, and to put in motion a process to establish an official agricultural work program. This is an objective that has been sought by Solutions from the Land (SfL), since COP 21 in Paris two years ago.

COP23 Parties and observers are being called upon to submit recommendations for work plan elements by March 31 of next year. Elements to be addressed include, but are not limited to:

  • Methods and approaches for assessing adaptation, adaptation co-benefits and resilience;
  • Improved soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility under grassland and cropland as well as integrated systems, including water management;
  • Improved nutrient use and manure management towards sustainable and resilient agricultural systems;
  • Improved livestock management systems;
  • Socioeconomic and food security dimensions of climate change in the agricultural sector.

While the process of developing an agricultural work plan will be long and laborious, the very intent represents a major breakthrough in positioning agricultural landscapes as a solution to climate challenges. Of particular interest will be ways agricultural landscapes can be managed to produce clean energy and sequester carbon.

To advance and scale up these win-win outcomes, SfL leaders Fred Yoder and Ernie Shea will be in Rome next month for the annual forum of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA). There they will seek to build a stronger base of support for adaptive management planning and climate solutions that farmers, ranchers and foresters can deliver from the land.

COP23’s green light decision to address agricultural adaptation and mitigation challenges paves the way for North American producers and value chain partners working under the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA), to scale up these high value, and often lower cost, climate smart agriculture solution pathways.

The Bonn conference makes clear that despite a limited “official” policy position, U.S. interests in combatting climate change will not go unrepresented. And because of non-governmental groups like SfL, the incredibly significant role of managing agricultural landscapes to meet a growing demand for sustainably produced food, feed and fiber, while simultaneously sinking carbon and producing renewable energy, is now at the forefront.

Political leaders at all levels around the world should embrace the efforts of those in agriculture who are working to maximize the use of their landscapes to help fight a changing climate. SfL stands ready to help policy makers develop the tools needed by these foresighted farm and grower groups to meet the growing challenges of an ever-changing future.


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Stakeholder Message to the White House: No New Solar Tariffs!

Recommendations for addressing a solar trade dispute are now at the White House, and it is expected that any decision President Trump might make on the case will have a profound impact on one of the more successful, strategically critical and economically important industries in this nation’s recent commercial history.

A 60-day clock started on Monday, setting a Jan. 12 deadline by which the president must either accept the recommendations from the U.S. International Trade Council (ITC), reject them, or set his own remedies. We urge other renewable energy advocates to join us and solar industry stakeholders in urging the White House to make the decision that will ensure the growth of the industry and protect tens of thousands of jobs.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) is expected to give the president its own input on the case, and will hold a public meeting Dec. 6 to discuss it. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is calling for stakeholders to submit to USTR their opposition to any tariffs or actions that could adversely affect the solar sector.

For some background on the case: Suniva, a Georgia-based firm principally owned by a Chinese company, and SolarWorld, owned by an “insolvent” German company, joined in a petition to the ITC in April, asking that penalty tariffs be levied on imported solar cells and panels. The commission determined in September that the imports were causing “serious injury” to the manufacturers and following a hearing in October, aired the recommendations it formally sent to the White House this week. (Those final recommendations are not expected to be made public until next month.)

The four ITC members each offered recommendations that varied, though three generally agreed on the imposition of tariffs over four years amounting to 30-35 percent (a price hike of about 10-11 cents), far lower than the punitive levies sought by Suniva of 25 cents per watt on all foreign-made solar cells and 32 cents per watt on all foreign-made panels. Suniva had also sought a floor price for all imported solar products of 74 cents per watt.

While SolarWorld called on the ITC to impose an import limit of at least 0.22 gigawatts for solar cells and 5.7 gigawatts for panels, before tariffs kicked in, the fourth commissioner called for a more generous quota – 8.9 gigawatts for the first year, then an increase of the duty-free limit by 1.4 gigawatts annually over the next four years. The commissioner also called for the U.S. sale of import licenses of one cent per watt, a scheme similar to one proposed by the SEIA.

The president needs to be reminded just who wins, should the ITC’s recommended remedies be imposed. With manufacturing representing a small segment of the U.S. solar industry, a vast majority of those in the sector here vehemently oppose the Suniva-SolarWorld petition, rightfully claiming that imposing any tariffs would raise the cost of solar in the United States and stymie a fast-growing economic sector.

While the petitioning firms say they’ve been harmed by imports artificially priced lower than what they can produce, others in the industry say that Suniva and SolarWorld made bad business decisions during the biggest boom in the history of American solar energy. The industry says the two companies failed to take advantage of opportunities in the burgeoning utility-scale segment of the market. Both firms, it is argued, are now being largely controlled by their creditors who are looking for a bailout.

Today, the solar component manufacturing sector has 38,000 workers making everything from sun trackers and inverters, to U.S. steel-made framing and racking systems. Those component manufacturers argue that if the tariffs are imposed, they will have to lay off workers, resulting in more jobs lost than those the tariffs might add.

That’s an important observation that needs to be brought to the president’s attention. The solar industry is an economic engine that is growing 17 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy, employing more than 280,000 American workers, and has added more than 100,000 blue-collar jobs to the economy in the last five years. Last year, the industry created 1 out of every 50 new U.S. jobs.

The solar industry has professed trepidation over what Trump may ultimately decide. The president has often dismissed renewable energy. And he has repeatedly said that he will work to promote U.S. manufacturers over foreign competition – protectionist rhetoric that alarms solar sector leaders who fear the president will adhere to his “America First” worldview and impose the penalties on imported solar modules, regardless of the impact they will have on the overall solar industry and component manufacturers here at home. Stakeholders are urged to make clear to the White House their views: No new solar tariffs!

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Latest National Assessment Shows Ag, Forestry Needed in Mitigating Climate Change

A U.S. government report released last Friday adds even more certainty to the assertion that human activities play a principle role in climate change and that damages from the growing environmental threat are happening now.

What was released Friday, is the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) which serves as Volume 1 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, and assesses the science of climate change with a focus on the United States, now and in the future. This report was authored by a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee.

The report, which is the fourth in an ongoing series of assessments, and which is updated every four years, was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. It was issued last Friday by 13 federal agencies, including USDA, EPA and NASA.

The assessment makes clear that the negative impacts of climate change are occurring now, occurring as temperatures have risen in recent decades to the warmest in the history of modern civilization.

As outlined in the assessment heatwaves have become more frequent in the United States since the 1960s, while extreme cold temperatures and cold waves are less frequent. Recent record-setting hot years are projected to become common in the near future for the United States, as annual average temperatures continue to rise. The annual average temperature over the contiguous United States has increased by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) from 1901 through 2016. From now until 2050, annual average temperatures are expected to rise by about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the average registered from 1976 through 2005, “under all plausible future climate scenarios.”

The incidence of large forest fires in the western United States and Alaska has increased since the early 1980s and is projected to further increase in those regions as the climate changes, leading to further challenges to regional ecosystems.

Annual trends toward earlier spring melt and reduced snowpack are already affecting water resources in the western United States and these trends are expected to continue. As the temperatures increase, extensive drought may become a persistently recurring threat in the years ahead.

Of course, the assessment makes clear that the magnitude of climate change in the future will depend primarily on the amount of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) that are emitted globally.

“Without major reductions in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperature relative to preindustrial times could reach 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) or more by the end of this century,” the assessment warns, adding that with significant reductions in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperature could be limited to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), the absolute most, global scientists say, before permanent catastrophic impacts result.

The assessment is a call to action. Despite an administration that leans heavily toward policies favoring emission-producing fossil fuels – especially coal – hundreds of representatives from U.S. corporations, universities, state governments, clean energy advocacy groups and other stakeholder interests have joined with world leaders in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd annual “conference of the parties” (COP23) being held this week and next. Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), COP23 participants aim to build on the steps outlined by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In response to these challenges which combine to create a major threat multiplier to the agricultural sector, the North American Climate Smart Agricultural Alliance (NACSAA) – an initiative launched in 2015 by 25x’25’s parent organization, Solutions from the Land (SfL) – is assisting its members in advancing the three pillars of climate smart agriculture – sustainable intensification of production; actions that can be taken to build resiliency; and production systems that allow farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and simultaneously improve profitability. Adaptive management strategies that the Alliance will examine include, among others, conservation systems like reduced tillage, cover crops, gypsum, and variable rate fertilizer technologies that reduce costs and improve soil health through the creation of additional microbial activity below the surface; risk management tools; infrastructure modifications and research priorities that will help producers maintain productivity in light of changing climatic conditions.

Next month in Rome at the annual forum of the Global Alliance of Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA), representatives of nations from across the globe, including SfL Chairman Fred Yoder and SfL President Ernie Shea, will share progress being made in North America to adapt to changing climatic conditions and deliver high value mitigation services from agricultural landscapes. The sequestration of carbon in soil through conservation tillage and cover crops, the judicious use of fertilizers to improve sustainability and soil carbon retention, and the reduction of GHG emissions provided by biofuels are among the assets that the agriculture and forestry sectors deliver in mitigating climate change.

Stakeholders are urged to join NACSAA in calling on policy makers and leaders – whether it’s in Bonn at COP23 or here at home – to embrace and scale up climate smart agriculture systems and practices, so the full range of goods and services delivered from the land can be realized.


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Waste-to-Energy Systems Need to be Valued Fully, Fairly

In mid-October, the North Carolina Public Utilities Commission (PUC) delayed for another year the requirement that the state’s electricity providers use energy converted from poultry and pork manures to meet a very small percentage of the power they produce under the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS).

The delay in implementing the REPS carve-out is disappointing in and of itself. But even more unfortunate is the fact that last month’s decision marks the sixth year in a row that the extremely modest mandate has been put off.

The set-aside adopted back in 2012 requires only 0.07 percent of each utility’s power come from converted hog waste. Additionally, the REPS set a first-year goal of just 170,000 megawatt-hours that all utilities together must generate from converted poultry litter – the poultry portion representing a miniscule portion of the 113 million megawatt-hours of electricity generated annually from conventional resources like natural gas, coal and nuclear.

To be fair, the utilities began meeting the poultry litter requirement in 2014, though two-years late. But they have made no progress since, and the PUC has hesitated enacting the entire set-aside. Power providers are nowhere near the next required level of poultry litter-derived power: 700,000 megawatt-hours.

What continues to be lost year after year is the opportunity that the mandate provides to bring substantial social, health and environmental benefits to a state that is among the leaders in pork and poultry production, and the manure management issues the industries bring with them.

The process of anaerobic digestion is the decomposition of biodegradable materials such as manures and waste foods, producing value-added products. The recovery of biogas and plant nutrients through anaerobic digestion systems is a proven technology. However, the current compensation schedule makes this waste-source for power generation economically challenging. Renewable energy advocates contend that the technology can help meet the goals of the North Carolina REPS and similar policies. What is not there, are the incentives that would motivate livestock producers to make the expenditures to pursue these cleaner sources of energy.

The North Carolina case underscores the need for policy makers, utilities and regulators to get serious about investing in the research that will make the conversion technologies – anaerobic digestion and gasification, combustion, among others – even more efficient.

And they must fairly compensate livestock producers who generate renewable energy from their operations through rates that reflect the increased environmental and health benefits their renewable energy investments provide. The social value of reduced nutrient runoff, less odor, reduced methane (a potent greenhouse gas), sustainable land management and greater biodiversity, among other benefits, should be included in the rates paid to those who invest in these systems and projects.

Congress also has a role to play. Legislation has just been introduced in the House that will extend the renewable electricity tax credit for open- and closed-loop biomass systems and other waste-to-energy technologies, as well as for hydropower and geothermal systems. Tax incentives for biogas and anaerobic digestion technologies expired at the end of 2016, while tax credits for wind and solar electricity resources were continued. With tax reform on the table this year, lawmakers need to remedy that disparity.

The American Biogas Council says the industry has the potential to build at least 13,000 new systems, which would catalyze about $40 billion in new capital investments, create 335,000 construction jobs and 23,000 permanent jobs, all while building the infrastructure needed for recycling organic material and protecting air, water and soil.

It’s important to note that the industry itself is taking an active role in promoting renewable energy development at operations to meet not only meet environmental goals, but bottom line considerations as well. For example, Smithfield Foods Inc. has launched Smithfield Renewables, a new platform within the organization to unify, lead and accelerate the company’s carbon reduction and renewable energy efforts.

The 25x’25 Alliance calls on stakeholders across the nation to reach out to local, state and federal policy makers and regulators, and urge them to offer full and fair valuation of the environmental and health benefits of the renewable energy that the owners of waste-to-energy systems produce. Rates should reflect more than the avoided cost value of the electron produced. By including the social value of the benefits provided, policy makers not only make the fair choice, they also encourage investments in new projects, compounding the benefits that are available.


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GAO Report Underscores Economic Imperative in Addressing Climate Change

A Gallup poll released earlier this year showed record percentages of Americans are concerned about global warming, believe it is occurring, consider it a serious threat and say it is caused by human activity. More than 70 percent recognize the scientific consensus on climate change, and more than 60 percent say the effects of climate change are happening now.

Not surprising – especially in today’s political environment – is that Americans’ views about climate issues divide sharply along partisan lines. Some two-thirds of Democrats polled expressed a “great deal” of worry about climate change. For Republicans, less than one in five said they had great concerns.

Given that divide, a report issued this week by the General Accounting Office (GAO) – an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress – recommends the White House take action to address climate change. This is a singular development, given the bitterly partisan debate over the subject on Capitol Hill.

In issuing the recommendations, the GAO is following its mission as the “congressional watchdog” charged with investigating how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. From that oversight perspective of fiscal responsibility, the agency makes the case that without implementing measures that mitigate the impacts of climate change, which has resulted in the spending of billions of disaster assistance dollars, the federal government will only have to respond with even more spending in the future.

The report, requested by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), says that over the past decade more than $350 billion in federal money has been spent to deal with increasingly severe hurricanes, extreme droughts, volatile weather like tornadoes, and wildfires. The GAO warns that the number and intensity of extreme weather events will rise, costing taxpayers more than $1 trillion by 2039. If hurricane and wildfire seasons continue in a similar pattern to 2017, costs will exceed $6 trillion in 20 years.

So, the GAO says, the White House should use the information that is available to help identify risks posed by climate change and “craft appropriate federal responses.”

As has been made clear by 25x’25, Solutions from the Land (our parent organization) and scores of other stakeholder organizations and forward-thinking policy makers, it is imperative that the White House and Congress develop policies that promote clean energy and boost the role of agriculture and forestry in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Renewable energy technologies – wind, solar, biomass, biofuels, geothermal and hydropower – are proven, inexpensive performers that are being deployed on a wide scale, and providing low- and no-carbon solutions to the challenges of a changing climate.

Meanwhile, bioenergy is playing a critical role in meeting an expected growing energy demand in the decades to come. The sustainable management of our forests and other biomass resources supplement non-renewable fossil fuels in the transportation, building and industry sectors, while also supporting domestic industries and improving our national energy security.

America’s farmers, ranchers and forestland owners are well positioned to contribute to this transition and seize the economic opportunity that can come with helping this country meet the challenges of climate change. Not only can they produce vast amounts of clean, renewable energy, but through the pursuit of soil health goals, they can sequester carbon through the crops, grasses and trees they grow.

Federal government data shows that U.S. working lands have been sequestering much more carbon than they emit (a net “carbon sink”) for the last three decades. In 2014, the U.S. land carbon sink sequestered a net 762 million metric tons of CO2, offsetting 11 percent of economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions. Those numbers can only get better with policies that help and incentivize landowners to boost soil health that can enhance carbon sequestration.

The reputation of the GAO as a nonpartisan, independent source of information serves to underscore the credibility of the warnings the agency is issuing in this latest report. Stakeholders should use this information and reach out to their elected officials, urging them to elevate adaptive management and resiliency planning and make the case to the White House that a misplaced devotion to an outdated view of our nation’s energy sector is not only extremely costly, it is also dangerous.

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Stay the Course with the RFS

There is little doubt as to the message sent to – and received by – EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and, by extension, President Trump, from a wide range of biofuel advocates from both sides of the aisle in Congress, as well as rural advocates from around the country: Fulfill your obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

In comments submitted to the EPA this week, 25x’25 provided its own defense of the RFS while urging the EPA to abandon its efforts to further reduce the total renewable fuel volume requirement for 2018 and reduce the biomass-based diesel volume requirement for 2019.

Biofuel advocates on Capitol Hill, in statehouses around the country and in small-town America say the proposed reductions represent a serious violation of the vow made by Trump during his campaign, and a number of times after his inauguration, of his full support for the RFS. It is a promise that most political analysts say helped him win the Iowa caucuses, and helped fire up support among rural voters throughout the country, earning Trump the White House.

EPA issued a proposal in July that set a blending level for advanced biofuels (those that generate at least 50 percent fewer carbon emissions than their petroleum-based equivalents) at 4.24 billion gallons, with 2.1 billion gallons allocated to biodiesel. When the advanced biofuel volume was proposed for 2018, many advocates were disappointed that it was less than the 4.28 billion gallons that were mandated for 2017. And that total proposed for next year also included a cellulosic target of 238 million gallons, down from this year’s 311 million gallons.

Those July blending proposals were already drawing heat from biofuel proponents, but then last month the agency issued a Notice of Data Availability (NODA) that indicated even greater cuts. Citing concerns over biofuel imports, EPA’s NODA proposed a drop in advanced biofuels next year to 3.77 billion gallons. That reduction includes a decrease in the earlier proposed biomass-based diesel volume for 2018 by as much as 315 million gallons. These cuts could lead to reductions in the total 2018 renewable fuel volume requirement from the 19.24 billion gallons proposed earlier this year to 18.77 billion gallons.

On Monday, a bipartisan group of 32 senators, led by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA) sent a letter to Pruitt, urging him to increase EPA’s proposed RFS blending levels for biodiesel (under law, biodiesel levels are set in the year ahead of the other Renewable Volume Obligations, or RVOs) to “encourage growth in the industry and diversity in the nation’s energy supply, and to abandon [EPA’s] effort to reduce biofuel production in 2018.”

The letter to Pruitt went out on the same day as a letter to Trump from four Republican governors of Midwestern states, who reminded the president of his “passionate support” of the RFS and his “explicit promises to our farmers that you would support investments in fuels like biodiesel and ethanol through the RFS.” Govs. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, Eric Greitens of Missouri and Sam Brownback of Kansas say EPA’s RFS proposals “threaten the livelihood of tens of thousands of American farmers and workers.”

EPA’s justification for restraining RVOs runs contrary to the biofuels industry’s demonstrated capability to produce even greater volumes than anticipated the year before. While cellulosic ethanol continues to be produced at a fraction of what Congress anticipated when it reauthorized and strengthened the RFS in 2007, the advanced biofuel made from prairie grasses, corn plant residues and other nonfood sources continues to grow at a steady clip. And to cut biodiesel levels already set for 2018 and leave them stagnant in 2019 makes little sense when the industry can clearly generate 2.75 billion gallons.

Grassley and Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Debbie Fischer (R-NE) Ben Sasse (R-NE) and John Thune (R-SD), along with others, met with Pruitt Tuesday (Grassley had lunch with the administrator Monday). Trump and Pruitt reached out to Gov. Reynolds Wednesday offering their assurances of support for the RFS. While the ensuing public statements from lawmakers this week were diplomatic, it was clear the senators did not hear what they wanted to hear from Pruitt. As Ernst noted, Pruitt “again claimed…that he will not do anything to undermine the program. However, we have heard this before.” And Grassley told reporters Monday that he and other farm-state lawmakers were ready to hold up EPA nominations if Pruitt does not give up the rollbacks of the RFS blending requirements.

The message to the EPA administrator from members of Congress, governors, farmers, rural Americans and others over how to carry out the agency’s RFS mission is clear: Follow the course that Congress and President Trump set in their commitment to the biofuels sector. In other words, get it right.


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Facing Challenges in DC, Renewable Energy Stakeholders Turn to States

Renewable energy advocates and stakeholders have found the current environment in Washington, DC, to be quite challenging, as it is increasingly complicated by the Trump administration’s moves to bolster fossil fuel technologies, while simultaneously attempting to diminish the benefits of cleaner alternatives.

Action such as the formal effort to kill the Clean Power Plan (CPP), proposed rules that essentially subsidize coal and nuclear power generation, moves to reduce biofuel blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard, and a call for an end to tax credits benefiting renewable energy development are just some of the salvoes endured by clean energy advocates in recent weeks.

It’s little wonder that those who recognize the need for clean energy – particularly America’s corporate interests – have turned to states to provide the policy foresight that can help them meet goals of reducing their carbon footprint and improving their bottom line – all while keeping the country on track toward a clean energy future armed with 21st-century energy technologies, tools and strategies.

It came as little surprise this week when EPA head Scott Pruitt, announced the Trump administration’s formal plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Obama administration’s marquee policy for regulating carbon emissions – principally those generated by power plants – and a potential accelerant of renewable energy development.

The move to end the CPP has been in the works for months. But adding to the disappointment caused by EPA’s refusal to carry out its responsibilities to protect public health with measures like those included in the CPP is the uncertainty as to when the administration may tender a replacement plan. Legal experts say a new plan may not go into effect until after the 2020 elections, an unfortunate delay in a time of growing global greenhouse emissions that scientists say progressively alter our climate, creating increasingly volatile weather patterns that result in widespread damage, loss of life and severe challenges to agricultural production.

Another concerning development from late last month occurred when Energy Secretary Rick Perry requested the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to consider issuing new rules to ensure that power generating facilities with a 90-day fuel supply – including nuclear and coal – be compensated for the reliability they add to the grid, in addition to the power they supply.

Such an order would essentially subsidize money-losing coal and nuclear facilities at the expense of ratepayers. A DOE study requested by Perry earlier this year found that the ongoing decline in these so-called “baseload” energy sources was attributable primarily to less expensive natural gas, flatlining energy demand, significant increases in net generation capacity since 2002, and the dramatic drop in the price of installing renewables like wind and solar, which has led to wider implementation of wind turbines and solar panels across the country.

Any doubt that the administration is targeting renewables in its effort to shore up other lagging power generation technologies is quickly removed by Pruitt’s comments to a Kentucky Farm Bureau gathering, where he said he would do away with wind production tax credits and solar investment tax credits, which are being phased out over the next five years or sooner.

Acknowledging that the credits are a policy decision that can only be made by Congress, Pruitt said he would let wind and solar “stand on their own and compete against coal and natural gas and other sources.” (Renewable energy advocates are quick to point out that the credits actually generate billions of dollars in added revenue and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in a growing industry sector – much of it in rural America.)

As bleak as appearances may be in Washington, states are continuing to take a leadership role through Renewable Portfolio Standards, tax credits, innovative financing tools, resiliency planning and other policy mechanisms that are helping to continue to push the domestic growth of clean energy.

Much of that policy drive comes from corporate America’s significant pursuit of clean energy as businesses and industries of all sizes set their own clean energy targets, building their own renewable power sources or entering into long-term Power Purchase Agreements from clean energy providers. Some say that environmental goals motivate their choices, but they all also recognize that renewable energy is good for the bottom line. Businesses understand that wind and solar are more than just cost competitive with fossil fuels – and will continue to be – but that they also offer price stability and sustainability certainty.

Even if federal agencies are ignoring marketplace reality, states, corporations and renewable energy advocates across all geographical and political spectrums, including 25x’25, will continue to pursue clean energy policies and goals that can create jobs, boost our economy, enhance our national security and make our world a better place to live.


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Congressional Support for Farm Energy Programs Will Boost Rural America

Much attention has been focused in recent weeks on Farm Bill Energy Title programs – federal initiatives that offer farmers and rural businesses the opportunity to contribute to this nation’s energy strategy and add to their bottom line.

But the future of these programs is uncertain as they are no longer a funding priority among lawmakers who cite lean budgetary times and who have been set on slashing nonmilitary spending across the board. What policy makers in Washington always seem to forget is that these programs generate revenues in parts of rural America that have been in a steady economic decline for at least four years.

Despite our concerns, the 25x’25 Alliance recognizes that lawmakers have the challenge of trying to do more with less. The latest House and Senate budget resolutions and appropriations bills have made it clear that numerous agricultural programs, especially those within the Energy Title, are targeted for deep cuts, or outright elimination.

But the Alliance also recognizes the need to maintain a strong rural economy that supports a diverse energy portfolio. And in comments submitted last week to the Senate Energy, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, we warn lawmakers that regardless of their efforts to reduce the federal deficit, they should not sacrifice critical national priorities that will ultimately leave the nation on a sounder economic footing in the future.

These priorities include the Farm Bill Energy Title Programs that 25x’25 has supported since their inception because they strengthen our national security, create jobs, and produce new economic opportunities and investments in rural America.

The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) supports a wide array of agriculture-based energy efficiency and renewable energy projects through grants and loan guarantees that have positively impacted every state in America by supporting nearly 13,000 projects and leveraging more than $3 billion in private investment. The program allows farmers to save on energy bills and even become energy producers, all while creating jobs in manufacturing, installing, and maintaining renewable energy and energy efficient systems.

Last year alone, REAP provided more than $35 million to farms, ranches and rural small businesses. However, because program grants can cover no more than 25 percent of the total project costs, they also generate considerable private and outside investment in addition to the federal support. Unfortunately, the House budget would cut mandatory REAP appropriations from $50 million this year to just $1 million in FY 2018, and the Senate’s proposal would cut REAP to $7.6 million.

One example of success can be seen in how the U.S. ethanol industry – in a relatively short period of time – has dramatically increased the amount of energy we produce domestically, significantly reducing our need to import oil. To continue down this path towards energy independence, Congress must continue to support the development of cellulosic ethanol and similar advanced biofuels from corn stover, switchgrass, poplar trees and other biomass sources. Many of the programs found within the Farm Bill’s Energy Title are designed to meet this need.

The Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program that provides critical financing for commercial-scale advanced biorefineries. It reduces investor risk, provides good-paying construction and operation jobs, and broadens the feedstocks used to develop biofuels. Unfortunately, this program currently has no funding.

Similarly, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), which ensures that advanced biorefineries will have the biomass energy feedstocks they need by providing assistance to help farmers and foresters plant and collect next-generation, purpose-grown energy crops and other biomass key to ensuring the near-term commercialization of low-carbon advanced biofuels, biopower and bioproducts, has also been decimated over the past two appropriation cycles.

Lawmakers are also slashing funding for collaborative research efforts that support the production of biomass feedstocks, as well as research on the biofuels and biobased products they can generate – efforts that can lead to cost-saving innovations that will allow the bioenergy industry to stand on its own, without the support of federal dollars.

A fully-funded Farm Bill Energy Title represents less than 1 percent of the cost of the current Farm Bill, adopted in 2014. Yet, the economic and societal benefits it produces are beyond measure, contributing to the nation’s drive for energy independence with rural America leading the way. And yet more cuts in Energy Title programs are under consideration, even as low commodity prices and stale export markets have hurt net farm income.

In the coming months, as work to develop the 2018 Farm Bill advances, we hope that the Agriculture Committees in both houses will continue to defend and support the Energy Title programs that demonstrate an honest commitment by Congress to achieve the crucial goal of a viable and resilient rural America. These programs have proved themselves worthy of reauthorization and robust funding.


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25x'25 Comments Call on EPA to Advance High Octane Fuels with Ethanol

The deadline is fast approaching for submitting comments to EPA on their Reconsideration of the Final Determination of Mid-term Evaluation (MTE) of greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for model year 2022-25 cars and light trucks. The 25x’25 Alliance is offering input and recommendations that address the agency’s specific request for comments pertaining to the impact of the standards on advanced fuels technology; particularly, the potential for high-octane blends.

Over the past several years 25x’25 has been working with partners in the agriculture and auto manufacturing sectors to make the case that high-octane fuels can be delivered cost effectively through the use of ethanol. Research has shown that high-octane, low-carbon (HOLC) ethanol blends, paired with optimized engines, are among the lowest cost means of achieving compliance with fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for model year (MY) 2022-2025 and beyond.

The fact that EPA is even taking comments on a process that was abruptly closed in the last weeks of the Obama administration is attributable to the joint decision made in March by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to reconsider the standards previously established for MY2022-2025 light-duty vehicles, and to set them back on the previously agreed-to schedule that coincides with NHTSA’s rulemaking due April 1, 2018.

For the first time in the MTE process, EPA has recognized the importance of considering fuels and engines as a system, and has explicitly invited comment on the role that fuel properties, especially octane rating, can play in facilitating compliance with the long-term fuel economy and GHG emissions standards.

It is important to note that EPA and DOE have continuously endorsed the utility of higher-octane fuels in achieving more efficient performance of the nation’s new car fleet, which will continue to use gasoline in large volumes to power internal combustion engines for many decades to come. Furthermore, the endorsement of the federal agencies is supported by a 2011 recommendation from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers to increase the minimum gasoline octane rating, commensurate with an increase in ethanol use, to help achieve future requirements for the reduction of GHG emissions.

High-octane gasoline, available for general use, could be used by automakers to support increased introduction of higher efficiency internal combustion power trains that can better address increasingly stringent fuel economy and emissions performance standards within the next few years. As performance standards are considered beyond model year 2025, high-octane fuel will be even more critical for supporting the deployment of compliant systems. It should also be noted that current “premium” fuel is not a viable solution for automakers because the octane rating is not high enough and the retail fuel price is cost-prohibitive to consumers. Ethanol provides the most cost-effective source of higher-octane that can be made widely available to markets across the country by 2025 though the use of existing and expanding distribution infrastructure.

By identifying the need to increase the octane rating of regular gasoline, EPA would open up competition in the marketplace, and allow ethanol producers and feedstock providers, like American corn growers, the opportunity to supply lower cost and cleaner octane. Additionally, increasing octane requirements would provide automobile manufacturers with near-term technology options they can utilize to achieve reduction in GHG emissions, improve fuel economy of the nation’s light duty fleet, lower fuel costs to consumers, and support sustainable job growth throughout the United States.

25x’25’s specific recommendations in response to EPA’s request for comments include:

  • Harmonize EPA’s GHG and NHTSA’s fuel economy standards to achieve the same net regulatory effect.
  • Establish a minimum octane level of 98 RON.
  • EPA’s own technical modeling done in their Technical Assessment Report (TAR) utilized the benefits of high-octane fuels, such as having an “R-Factor” of 1.0 and using a 93 AKI (98 RON) fuel instead of an 87 AKI (91 RON) fuel. Additionally, EPA should correct its fuel economy equation (“R-factor”) to accurately certify vehicles running on ethanol blends.
  • EPA should change the current Tier 3 fuel regulation to focus on the utility of octane rather than the specific use of the term “premium” fuel; thereby changing all references in the Tier 3 Preamble to “high-octane” fuel instead of “premium” fuel.
  • Approve an alternative certification fuel with 25 percent ethanol and a minimum octane rating of 98 RON.
  • Correct the outdated “MOVES2014” model used in calculating GHG emissions from ethanol.
  • Allow Reid vapor pressure (RVP) relief to E15 and higher ethanol blends.
  • Update the lifecycle analysis of corn ethanol.

Unfortunately, the encouragement offered by EPA’s reconsideration of GHG and fuel efficiency standards is tempered significantly by the agency’s notice of data availability (NODA) that was released this week and suggests further reductions to the advanced biofuel blending requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for 2018 and, for bio-based diesel in 2019. Industry stakeholders had already expressed disappointment with the agency’s proposed reductions to advanced and overall biofuel requirements when it issued its proposed RFS rule in July, and are even more opposed to the current consideration.

25x’25 encourages its clean energy partners to tell EPA that if properly designed and implemented, future GHG and fuel efficiency standards can work in tandem with programs like the RFS to reduce emissions and fossil fuel consumption. Yet, that means creating opportunities for more biofuels that can help to attain future environmental and efficiency goals, not less.


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National Clean Energy Week to Underscore Economic and Energy Security Benefits

Some of the nation’s leading clean energy organizations are bringing their forces together next week to observe the first annual National Clean Energy Week (NCEW), a public awareness and lobbying campaign that will focus on the economic and energy security benefits offered by the clean energy sector.

The week renews the focus on economic and energy security benefits offered by the clean energy sector. These benefits and others will be spotlighted by the industry associations, businesses, non-profits and advocates in the clean energy space who are joining to stage activities in Washington, DC, and across America.

Just a listing of some of the national organizations who comprise NCEW’s Steering Committee is impressive in its broad range and high level of commitment: Advanced Energy Economy (AEE), the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the Biomass Power Association (BPA), the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE), Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) Forum, Clean Energy Business Network (CEBN), the Energy Storage Association (ESA), the National Hydropower Association (NHA) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

That’s a list reflecting wind, solar, hydro, biopower, efficiency and other clean energy resources, and their pursuit of an energy future that is as void of carbon emissions as possible. And those interests aim to impress upon policy makers and elected officials next week that the readily abundant and reliable forms of clean energy across this nation are spurring job growth and driving technological innovation.

They intend to showcase how they are helping to make the industry stronger, and influence the discussion around common sense clean energy solutions that directly address America’s need for abundant, reliable forms of energy.

Specifically, NCEW forces are set to defend production and investment tax benefits granted by Congress two years ago that are set to continue through 2022. Some in the sector fear lawmakers may try to repeal those tax breaks early during tax code reform debate Congress wants to take up this year.

The trade groups are also expected to use findings from a recently released DOE grid study to reinforce the value of renewables in building and sustaining grid resiliency.

And these advocacy groups are also expected to underscore the value of their industries to the U.S. economy. As pointed out by one of the groups when next week’s observation was announced, the huge increase of renewable generation in electricity markets has made the American renewable energy industry one of the nation’s fastest growing economic sectors. New power generation represents the largest source of private sector infrastructure investment in the United States over the past six years, the groups say.

It’s a $200 billion industry, as large as the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector, and it supports 3 million workers across the country. Participants during the week will tell lawmakers that more should be done to support policies that increase investment in cost-competitive renewable and clean energy generation – to harness the nation’s abundant domestic energy resources, drive economic development and help achieve environmental objectives.

The week will highlight innovative technologies that range from solar, wind and demand response to combined heat and power, energy efficiency, energy storage – and everything in between – and are providing reliable energy solutions for the American economy, all while driving down costs for consumers.

These are groups that have come together to influence the discussion around common sense clean energy solutions that directly address America’s need for abundant, reliable forms of energy. It’s important that policy makers listen to the calls from these clean energy interests and remove barriers to innovation at the federal and state level to expand the deployment of advanced energy and bring secure, clean, reliable, affordable power to all Americans.


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