FROM THE HILL

Washington Update:

The House and Senate are currently on August recess, and will not be back in session until September 10th.  When they return, issues on the agenda include finalizing federal funding for the rest of the calendar year, re-authorization of U.S. agricultural and nutrition programs, addressing expiring tax provisions, and dealing with the impending sequestration, particularly those aimed at the U.S. Department of Defense.

USDA Announces Loan for Advanced Biofuel Production Facility

On August 6th, USDA announced a $105 million loan guarantee to Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels, LLC to finance development of a facility to convert municipal solid waste into advanced biofuels.  Once operational, the plant is expected to convert 147,000 tons of processed municipal solid waste into over 10 million gallons of advanced biofuels annually using a two-part thermo-chemical process. Based in Pleasanton, California, the operator, Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels is a privately held company that focuses on developing facilities that convert municipal solid waste and other waste products to a low-cost, reliable and environmentally clean renewable transportation fuel. USDA, through its Rural Development Biorefinery Assistance Program (Section 9003 of the 2008 Farm Bill), approved an 80 percent loan guarantee to finance the project, with a conditional commitment that Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels, LLC must meet before loan closing.

Departments of Interior and Defense Promote Renewable Energy on Federal Lands

On August 6th, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense announced that they are teaming up to strengthen the nation’s energy security and reduce military utility costs by encouraging renewable energy production.  The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) encourages development of renewable energy projects on public lands set aside for defense-related purposes, and other onshore and offshore areas near military installations. The MOU sets out the guiding concepts for the Renewable Energy Partnership Plan, the departments’ roles and responsibilities under the  agreement, and how they will work together to carry out the initiative. A major goal of the partnership is to harness the significant proven solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy resources on or near DoD installations across the country.

BOEM Moves Forward with Arctic Habitat Study

On August 6th, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced the next steps in an important study of the Hanna Shoal area in the Chukchi Sea offshore Alaska.  A team of scientists embarked on a three-week expedition as part of a long-term study of marine life in the northeast Chukchi Sea.  Previous studies of Hanna Shoal have documented sustained benthic productivity, accompanied by high concentration of water birds, walruses, and whales.  This study will help identify and measure important physical and biological processes that contribute to the high concentration of marine life in this area, advancing BOEM’s understanding of environmental considerations such as food web dynamics and potential contaminant bioaccumulations.  This new information will help inform BOEM’s future resource management decisions in the Arctic.

26 Senators Urge EPA to Waive RFS Ethanol Requirement as Drought Intensifies

On August 7th, 26 Senators led by Senator Kay Hagan sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging the Agency use its existing waiver authority and modify the renewable fuel requirements as a result of the drought.  This letter follows an August 1st letter signed by More than 150 members of the House also signed an Aug. 1 letter asking EPA to use its waiver authority under Clean Air Act Section 211(o)(7) to reduce the ethanol requirement for 2012. EPA is requiring the total volume of fuel sold in the United States to contain 15.2 billion gallons of renewable fuels in 2012. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (Pub. L. No. 110-140) requires 16.55 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2013. Ethanol producers have said they are confident they will be able to produce sufficient quantities to meet the 2012 requirement despite the drought.

EPA Awards $2 Million to Small Businesses to Support Environmental Innovation, Protect Health

On August 7th, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded seven contracts totaling more than $2 million to small businesses across the nation to develop new technologies to keep the environment clean and healthy.  Companies won the contracts through the highly competitive annual Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program competition, which encourages small businesses to explore and develop environmental technologies from concept to commercialization.  The winning companies submitted their innovative ideas during the first phase of the SBIR competition in 2011, and received SBIR Phase I contracts of up to $80,000 to develop their concepts into technologies addressing key environmental areas.  Companies who won phase I was eligible to apply to the program’s phase II competition earlier this year. As phase II recipients received around $300,000 to further develop their technologies for the market place.

Rhode Island Offshore Wind Energy Transmission Line Moves Forward

On August 7th, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced a determination of no competitive interest for the construction of a transmission system between the Rhode Island coastline and Block Island, an important step in evaluating the transmission project proposed by Deepwater Wind that would deliver electrical power from its proposed 30 megawatt Block Island Wind Farm in state waters. BOEM received an application from Deepwater Wind requesting a right-of-way grant for an eight nautical mile-long, 200-foot wide corridor in federal waters on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to connect their proposed offshore wind farm, located in Rhode Island state waters approximately 2.5 nautical miles southeast of Block Island, to the Rhode Island mainland. The proposed offshore transmission connection would also transmit power from the existing onshore transmission grid to Block Island. Deepwater Wind estimates the proposed wind farm will generate over 100,000 megawatt hours annually, supplying the majority of Block Island’s electricity needs.   Additional information about the project can be viewed here.

Department of Interior Announces Progress on Floating Offshore Wind Demonstration Project

On August 9th, the Department of the Interior announced that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is  moving forward in the assessment of a proposed project to demonstrate floating offshore wind technology on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) offshore Maine. Statoil North America has requested a commercial wind lease to build a demonstration project of full-scale floating wind turbine technology offshore Maine. The proposed project, located about 12 nautical miles off the coast, would have a 12-megawatt production capacity through four wind turbine generators. The Statoil proposal also responds to a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.  Additional information about the project can be reviewed here.

NOAA, Partners Find 50-year Decline in some Los Angeles Vehicle-Related Pollutants

On August 9th, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration discovered in California’s Los Angeles Basin, levels of some vehicle-related air pollutants have decreased by about 98 percent since the 1960s, even as area residents now burn three times as much gasoline and diesel fuel.  Between 2002 and 2010 alone, the concentration of air pollutants called volatile organic compounds (VOC) dropped by half, according to a new study by NOAA scientists and colleagues.  VOCs, primarily emitted from the tailpipes of vehicles, are a key ingredient in the formation of ground-level ozone which, at high levels, can harm people’s lungs and damage crops and other plants.

USDA Announces Funding for Rural Electric Utility Upgrades in 18 States

On August 9th, the USDA announced that rural electric utilities in 18 states will receive loan guarantees to make improvements to electric lines, transmission facilities and to reduce peak electric loads by deploying smart grid technologies. USDA Rural Utilities Administrator Jonathan Adelstein made the announcement while visiting the offices of one of the recipients, Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC) in Crewe, Virginia.

CBO Releases Report on Budgetary Effects of Opening Federal Lands for Energy Development

On August 10th, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report requested by Rep. Paul Ryan on the budgetary effects of immediately opening all federal lands and waters to energy exploration. The CBO said about $93.3 billion could be raised from royalties and rents stemming from offshore energy leases from 2012 through 2022, with another $21.8 billion to be received from bonus payments paid by companies for the right to explore in certain areas. For onshore energy exploration, the CBO projected $31.6 billion in royalties and rents and an additional $2.2 billion in bonus payments, to bring the total amount of potential revenues to $148.9 billion. The CBO said to open most federal land to leasing would require repealing statutory prohibitions on exploring in certain areas, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and changing administrative policies to make other areas like the Outer Continental Shelf available.

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