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California awards $69.9 million for dairy digester projects

Biomass Magazine | Posted on July 16, 2018

The California Department of Food and Agriculture has awarded $69.9 million in grant funding to 40 dairy digester projects across the state. These projects, part of the Dairy Digester Research and Development Program, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from manure on California dairy farms. Financial assistance for the installation of dairy digesters comes from California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that uses Cap-and-Trade program funds to support the state’s climate goals. CDFA and other state agencies are investing these proceeds in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide additional benefits to California communities. Dairy digester grant recipients will provide an estimated $95.5 million in matching funds for the development of their projects.

EPA scraps detailed plan to force U.S. refiners to blend more biofuels

Reuters | Posted on July 15, 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ditched a detailed plan that would have forced refiners to blend more biofuels into their gasoline and diesel in 2019 to compensate for volumes likely to be exempted under the agency’s small refinery hardship waiver program, according to newly released EPA documents.  The plan would have boosted the renewable fuel blending obligation for the refining industry to 11.76 percent from 10.88 percent to offset volumes lost under the waiver program, which has been expanded sharply under President Donald Trump’s EPA, and keep overall blended volumes on target. The idea was aimed at assuaging the powerful U.S. corn lobby which has accused Trump’s EPA of undermining demand for biofuels like corn-based ethanol through the waiver program, but was scrapped amid intense protest from the refining industry. “What this shows is the EPA acknowledges it has the authority and the ability to reallocate the volumes lost under the small refinery exemption program,” Geoff Cooper, an executive at the Renewable Fuels Association, said on Wednesday.

Battle Between Ethanol And Refiners Reaches Stalemate

The Fuse | Posted on July 15, 2018

The current zero-sum battle between corn states and the biofuels industry on the one hand, and oil refiners on the other, is not new, but it exploded into a fierce fight over the past year as the Environmental Protection Agency  cracked open the door to a weakening of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). The RFS dictates how much ethanol refiners need to procure. The exit of Scott Pruitt from the EPA could signal an end to open war between the ethanol and refining industries, returning it to a more familiar low-grade tug-of-war over annual blending requirements. The Trump administration has spent months trying to hammer out a compromise between refiners and the biofuels industry, but it has struggled to find any common ground. Advancing a proposal to the benefit of one side almost necessarily undermines the other. Ethanol producers argue the waivers are destroying the RIN market. But refiners say the RIN system is fundamentally flawed. “We simply want to correct the flawed and indefensible RINs compliance mechanism that is destroying the independent merchant refining industry and the thousands of families sustained by it,” Philadelphia Energy Solutions said in a February statement. This zero-sum dynamic has bedeviled the Trump administration, as it has prior administrations. But the support for refiners from Scott Pruitt’s EPA pushed the issue to the front burner, and the corn and ethanol industries, and their powerful allies in Congress, forced the issue.

How solar energy helps Mennonites with their mission of global relief

U.S. Energy News | Posted on July 14, 2018

The Gift & Thrift in Harrisonburg is one of more than one hundred thrift shops run by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Canada and the United States. Since 1972 they have raised more than $200 million to support domestic and international aid programs by the MCC. In addition to the thrift shop, the Harrisonburg complex of buildings hosts an artisan gift shop, a bookstore, a café, and a community center.To bring solar to the Gift & Thrift, the store and the MCC teamed up with local solar installer Secure Futures to create the “Thrifty Solar Barn Raising” team. They were one of over 170 teams nationwide selected to compete in the US Department of Energy’s Solar In Your Community Challenge, a $5 million contest that supports “innovative and replicable community-based solar business models and programs that will bring solar to underserved communities.”

Solar Plan Collides With Farm Tradition in Pacific Northwest

The New York Times | Posted on July 14, 2018

When a company from Seattle came calling, wanting to lease some land on Jeff and Jackie Brunson’s 1,000-acre hay and oat farm for a solar energy project, they jumped at the idea, and the prospect of receiving regular rent checks. They did not anticipate the blowback — snarky texts, phone calls from neighbors, and county meetings where support for solar was scant.Critics said the project would remove too much land from agricultural production in central Washington. If approved by regulators, it would be one of the biggest solar generators ever built in the state, with five large arrays spread around the county, covering around 250 acres with sun-sucking panels.Ms. Brunson said the critics should mind their own business and respect property rights. “They want the romance of watching you farm,” Ms. Brunson, 59, said. “They move into their little piece of heaven, their little three acres, or their little 20 acres, and they don’t want any other changes around them.”

Virginia regulators accuse Mountain Valley Pipeline of erosion violations

The Roanoke Times | Posted on July 14, 2018

Virginia regulators have accused the builder of the Mountain Valley Pipeline of environmental violations punishable by fines and repair mandates, saying the company’s failure to install and maintain erosion-control devices has fouled 8,800 feet of streams in six locations.The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality gave Robert Cooper, project manager for EQT Corp. in Pittsburgh, a nine-page notice of violations on Monday. The energy company, which hopes to fill the line with natural gas by the end of the year and is permitted to continue working, has 10 days to respond.Five months into tree-clearing, grading and digging needed to bury the pipe, the $3 billion project faces possible state enforcement action for the first time. West Virginia previously notified EQT of alleged violations on that state’s portion of the pipeline.

North Dakota sues Dakota Access over farmland ownership

MPR news | Posted on July 14, 2018

North Dakota's attorney general is suing the developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline over agricultural land the company owns in violation of a state law banning large corporations from owning farmland. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem filed a civil complaint in state district court against Dakota Access LLC, a company formed by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners to build the $3.8 billion pipeline to move North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois. The pipeline began operating a year ago. Dakota Access in September 2016 bought about 6,000 acres (2,400 hectares) from a ranch family in an area of southern North Dakota where thousands of pipeline opponents had gathered to protest. North Dakota law prohibits large corporations from owning and operating farms, to protect the state's family farming heritage, but Stenehjem reached a deal with the company under which he agreed not to immediately sue. He deemed the purchase temporarily necessary to provide a safer environment for pipeline workers. The agreement with the company expired at the end of last year but was extended through June. The company's "continued ownership of the land constitutes a continuing violation of state law," 

Wisconsin Loses Another 54 Dairy Farms in June

Dairy Herd Management | Posted on July 14, 2018

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection reports that 54 Wisconsin dairy farms sold out in June. That’s on top of the 78 that left the business in May. Year-to-date, 338 dairy farms stopped milking cows. Still, USDA estimates that cow numbers are down just 1,000 head from January to May (the latest report available). The year-to-day farm exits are running about 30% higher than the same January through June farm exits in 2017. Note: The June 2018 exit number of 54 farms is six fewer in June 2017.

The Billionaire Quietly Protecting Western Lands From Oil and Gas Drilling

Inside Philosphy | Posted on July 13, 2018

Hansjörg Wyss is one of the most influential billionaire philanthropists that nobody much talks about. We’ve seen his Wyss Foundation’s giving expand from Western conservation into work in Africaocean conservation, even journalism.  And that’s just the environmental giving. Wyss is also a major progressive donor, on the board of the Center for American Progress alongside Tom Steyer. Oh, and he also gave a combined $250 million to Harvard for the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering (remember when everyone got so mad at John Paulson for giving $400 million to Harvard?).   The publicity-shy philanthropist has mostly managed to cultivate a low-key reputation as a Swiss entrepreneur who fell in love with the American West as a college student. Part of that image comes from his track record of buying up beloved land to protect it from industry. Securing land in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and more has always been at the core of his philanthropic interests, and he’s still very much engaged in the cause, as he recently made a gift of an undisclosed amount to the Trust for Public Land, to buy and retire oil and gas leases on more than 24,000 acres in Wyoming. 

EPA 2019 RFS Proposed Rulemaking: What You See Is Not What You Get

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on July 13, 2018

On June 26, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its proposed rule for establishing the volume obligations under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) (EPA Proposed Rule).  If finalized, the proposed rule would set the requirements for obligated parties to comply with the RFS for calendar year 2019, as well as the requirements for biomass-based diesel for calendar year 2020.  On its face, the proposed rule and its obligations appear to be non-controversial and straightforward.  Buried within the proposed rule, however, is a mechanism for potentially reducing the mandate below the statutory requirements and EPA’s stated obligations. Overall, the proposed rule continues the significant reduction of cellulosic ethanol based on limited production capacity, as well as continuing the increases for biomass-based diesel.   As EPA explains, it is making full use of the waiver authority granted by Congress in the statute to reduce cellulosic ethanol requirements.  This is not controversial and is largely based on EPA projections of the ability of the industry to produce cellulosic ethanol; an estimate of capacity to produce 381 million gallons, which is over 8 billion gallons below the statutory requirements.  Similarly, EPA is making full use of its statutory authority to reduce the total renewable fuel volumes by the full amount of the cellulosic reduction.  It leaves 4.88 billion gallons of advanced biofuel obligations which are likely to be filled by biomass-based diesel above 2.1 billion gallons. On its face, the proposed obligations do not appear controversial.  EPA has discretionary authority for waiving down the cellulosic mandate, as well as the advanced and total mandates up to the amount of the cellulosic waiver amount.  The 2019 proposed obligations appear to align with the statutory mandates.  What is not apparent in the numbers, however, is buried in the small print and it involves continued use of hardship exemptions for small refiners.