New RFS Pathway Petitions: Analysis of EPA’s New Guidance and Procedures

As reported in the previous blog entry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on September 30, 2014 that it had completed its review of the New Pathway Petition process under the Renewable Fuel Standard. Today’s entry will summarize what EPA has done and briefly analyze the new Guidance that Agency has issued to help applicants prepare new petitions. Tomorrow I’ll post a more complete section-by-section analysis of the Guidance document.

As I described in an earlier blog post, many developers of novel renewable fuels need to petition EPA to have their production pathway approved as meeting the requirements of the RFS. I reported in a March 20, 2014 blog entry that EPA issued a Program Announcement in March 2014 to say that it was initiating activities to improve the petition process for new RFS fuel pathways, to enable more timely and efficient decision-making, and to provide improved guidance to companies considering submitting new petitions, to try to substantially reduce the large backlog and long processing times for pending petitions. The agency asked companies to voluntarily hold off on submitting new petitions during this process, which was expected to take 6 months, a time frame which was indeed met by last month’s announcement.

One significant outcome of the agency’s review has been creation of a greatly-improved website with information on many aspects of the petition program. This can be found at http://www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels/renewablefuels/new-pathways. The site features easily-understood menus with links to guidance on the petition process, information about the regulations governing new pathways, and the web pages listing approved and pending petitions. The new website includes a page entitled “How to Submit a Complete Petition”, which includes links to a new guidance document for industry, with detailed instructions for how to prepare new pathway petitions, which can now be submitted electronically via EPA’s web server. Also posted on the web is a screening tool, in the form of a spreadsheet that the agency wants companies to use to submit the data needed for EPA to complete the life cycle analysis of the pathway that is required under the regulations.

Some of the key aspects of the new Guidance document are as follows:

  • The new document is very thorough, but is also fairly clear on the requirements for new pathway petitions.
  • The Guidance covers many different possible scenarios (e.g., multiple applicants, petitions from feedstock developers rather than fuel producers), and so several of its sections may not be applicable to all petitioners.
  • The requested information largely conforms to information previously believed to be required from the regulations and EPA’s website, but nevertheless will be beneficial to submitters in clearly specifying the data EPA wants to see, and the format in which to present it.
  • As laid out in the Guidance document, it appears that a significant amount of information and data may be required in a petition, particularly for pathways involving agricultural crops as novel feedstocks. It is not clear how these newly-specified requirements  will affect the ability of small, early-stage companies to submit successful petitions.
  • Petitions can now be submitted via EPA’s central data server, by e-mail, or in hard copy.

Analysis

The document provides clear guidance for the information needed in a petition and how EPA expects the information to be presented and formatted. However, not all portions of the requested information might apply to all applicants, and so prior consultation with EPA would be recommended for most applicants. Further, the document clarifies some issues that were somewhat unclear under the previous system: for example clarifying the levels of detail needed for various pieces of information, and clarifying how an applicant might request an approval that depends on specific limitations or provisions for the pathway that are needed to achieve the threshold greenhouse gas reduction levels.

One potentially troubling aspect is that the document seems to be requiring a substantial amount of prior operating data for new pathways, projections of production volumes several years into the future, and (with regard to agricultural feedstocks) detailed information on markets and production needs. One can understand why EPA might want such data, but it begs the question of whether this will pose a difficult burden for early-stage companies that might not have such historical data or the resources to develop the requested production and market forecasts. Presumably EPA will have some flexibility on these and other aspects of the requested data.

Overall, I believe the new Guidance document will be very useful for companies seeking to have new pathways approved under the RFS. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be preparing the talk on this new petition process that I’ll be giving at the at the BIO Pacific Rim conference this coming December, and during that time I plan to speak to EPA representatives to clarify some questions about this new guidance. I’ll report on what I learn, and I’ll also plan to post additional information about my talk as the date gets closer. Please look for tomorrow’s post for a more detailed section-by-section summary of the new Guidance document.

D. Glass Associates, Inc.is a consulting company specializing in government and regulatory affairs support for renewable fuels and industrial biotechnology. David Glass, Ph.D. is a veteran of over thirty years in the biotechnology industry, with expertise in industrial biotechnology regulatory affairs, U.S. and international renewable fuels regulation, patents, technology licensing, and market and technology assessments. More information on D. Glass Associates’ regulatory affairs consulting capabilities, and copies of some of Dr. Glass’s prior presentations on biofuels and biotechnology regulation, are available at www.slideshare.net/djglass99 and at www.dglassassociates.com. The views expressed in this blog are those of Dr. Glass and D. Glass Associates and do not represent the views of any other organization with which Dr. Glass is affiliated. Please visit our other blog, Biofuel Policy Watch.

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