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Lame Duck Is Now in Session; Time to Fund Farm Bill's Energy Title Programs

November 14, 2018
The Farm Bill’s energy title programs provide significant support to the companies and manufacturers that contribute to American’s bio-based economy – an economy that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found contributes $393 billion to the overall U.S. economy, generating 4.223 million jobs. One such program is the USDA’s BioPreferred® Program, legislatively known as the Biobased Markets Program.

The BioPreferred® Program helps establish a market for companies developing renewable chemicals and bio-based products by prioritizing the procurement of these products by federal agencies and their contractors. Additionally, the program issues a USDA voluntary certified renewable chemical and bio-based label – ensuring the product is bio-based – to manufacturers across the country and internationally, helping companies promote their products to consumers.

Recently, USDA proposed a rule to add several new product categories to this program, expanding the range of bio-based products that will be available to the government, it’s contractors and consumers. And now that all the votes from the midterm election have been tallied (well, almost all), it’s time for Farm Bill negotiators to get back to work to pass a bipartisan bill before January so that the program can continue to be funded without interruption and these new product categories incorporated.

Shortly before the election, BIO’s Managing Director for Industrial and Environmental Rina Singh spoke with E&E News’ Marc Heller about USDA’s proposed rule, why the Senate’s version of funding the bill needs to be passed and the overall state of the program heading into Farm Bill negotiations.

Read the full piece below, or at E&E News Greenwire here.
American agriculture is quietly working its way into the nation's cosmetic bags.

Facial care products are among an array of bio-based goods the Department of Agriculture is promoting through a new set of proposed rules, buried in dozens of regulations moving through the agency.

For all its obscurity, though, the campaign behind bio-based products is a top priority for organizations that say biomass has a future beyond energy production. They are applauding USDA's expanding list of products it buys or that carry a certified bio-based label — and pushing Congress to maintain the effort in the 2018 farm bill.

The department is taking public comment through Nov. 13 on a notice of proposed rulemaking that would add 30 items to the list, ranging from facial care products to trash bags to paint used to mark highway lanes.

 The bio-based products industry has grown rapidly, to tens of thousands of production in the United States, according to USDA. More than 4.22 million jobs are connected to the industry, which makes a value-added contribution to the economy of nearly $400 million, the department said in a report in March.

"It's doing really well," said Rina Singh, a policy director at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. The group was an initial backer of USDA's BioPreferred Program, which mandates the purchase of certain bio-based products.

One handicap for the industry has been its overlap with the petroleum business. Rather than try to mimic petroleum-based products as the bio-based business has done, a brighter future may lie in new agriculturally derived chemicals that don't have a petroleum-based equivalent, said Jessie Stolark, a policy associate at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

Splitting from a petroleum mindset also would remove an element of competition, since the price of oil can either spur more bio-based products or fewer.

"You can do new and novel things," Stolark said.

Products approved, or slated for approval, don't have to be completely derived from feedstocks and similar biological materials, but they do have to meet certain thresholds.

The proposed regulations would set the minimum at 88 percent for facial care products and 30 percent for road-lane markings, for instance.

The department is also taking a closer look at so-called intermediate ingredients, which are partly bio-based, as officials try to meet requirements first set out in the 2008 farm bill. Intermediate ingredients can help more products qualify for the BioPreferred program, Stolark said.

Negotiations on the 2018 farm bill could have a big impact on the industry, as well.

Singh said advocates for bio-based products support the Senate's version of the farm bill, which keeps the programs going and directs USDA and the Commerce Department to develop a system for classifying bio-based products. That could provide more clarity on what productions qualify, Singh said.

The Senate version of the bill (H.R. 2) devotes an entire title to energy programs, in which bio-based products are included. The House version would move the program into a rural development section, without mandatory funding, she said.

Farm bill negotiations will resume when Congress returns from the recess after next week's midterm elections. Leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture committees say they intend to finalize a bill during the lame-duck session.