What’s the EPA thinking about biofuels?

February 19, 2020
We’re midway through the short week, with news on what we can expect from the EPA on biofuels requirements as well as the outlook for Grassley-Wyden when Congress returns from recess. Plus, a highly respected doctor explains why proposed drug price controls will…

We’re midway through the short week, with news on what we can expect from the EPA on biofuels requirements as well as the outlook for Grassley-Wyden when Congress returns from recess. Plus, a highly respected doctor explains why proposed drug price controls will disincentivize R&D. Here are 800 words (4 minutes).

What’s the EPA thinking about biofuels?

As we noted yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reportedly taking a look at its exemptions to renewable fuels requirements, according to Reuters. Here’s what we can expect. 

In case you’re new here: Trump’s EPA has granted an unprecedented number of Small Refinery Exemptions (SREs) to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires a certain percentage of biofuels to be mixed in transportation fuel in the United States.

But last month, an appeals court ruled the EPA “overstepped its authority to grant” three exemptions in 2016 and asked the agency to reconsider them, because the particular refineries “had not received exemptions in the previous year,” Reuters reported in January.

In addition to these three waivers, the ruling “has prompted speculation that the EPA will need to reconsider dozens of other waivers it has granted under similar circumstances, and drastically reduce the numbers of waivers handed out in the future.”

So, EPA’s consulting with the White House on the next move, with a decision expected by March 9th, according to the latest from Reuters.

What they’re saying: “[The ruling] has the potential of completely—of changing—the small refinery program,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “So, we’re taking a close look at the Tenth Circuit decisions and the ramifications to the program.”

But: It’s all about semantics—and it’s not clear what, if anything, will change in terms of how much biofuel will actually be required to be used when all is said and done. 

BIO’s take: We’re glad the administration is looking at the issue and we’re hopeful it will be fixed—but in the meantime, we’re doing our part to push for low-carbon fuel initiatives across the country to drive adoption of more sustainable biofuels.


More Agriculture & Environment News: 

POLITICO Pro [Subscription]: USTR slams EU over pesticides, chemicals and medical devices
“Speaking at the WTO’s biannual review of EU trade policies, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Dennis Shea slammed EU food standards and ‘measures that affect U.S. manufacturers and producers in a wide range of sectors, including medical devices, chemicals and high tech products.’” 

South China Morning Post: China to offer trade war tariff exemptions on 700 U.S. farm, medical, energy products amid coronavirus
“The exemptions would only be effective for one year, subject to approval, with the commission adding that each application would need to undergo an approval process.”


Medical innovation system "under assault"


Writing in The Detroit News, Brigham Health’s Dr. Betsy Nabel warns drug price controls could disincentivize research into new cures. 

Who, what, where: Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Nabel, a cardiologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, president of Brigham Health and Women’s Hospital, and former head of NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, wrote an op-ed to explain the drug development cycle and how proposed policies might harm it.

Although the federal government funds “basic scientific research,” she says, it’s often “small, venture-backed biomedical companies” who turn knowledge into treatments, partnering with larger companies on expensive clinical trials and regulatory requirements. 

But this model is risky—requiring “decades of research, hundreds of millions of dollars in seed funding, and a policy environment that fosters innovation.”

And it’s “under assault” by proposed price controls, including a proposal to allow the federal government to set prices on drugs they initially helped research, regardless of who funds and produces the treatment.

The key quote: “Though doubtlessly well-intentioned, these policy changes could eliminate the financial incentives that allow research scientists to explore new treatments,” she explains. “If we want American firms to continue producing lifesaving treatments, we need to protect them.” 

BIO will take the doctor’s advice—by continuing our work to explain the pharmaceutical R&D cycle and how price controls in particular will threaten new cures. 

Read more about how price negotiations might impact cures.


More Health Care News: 

POLITICO: Health care costs are top priority heading into elections
“The vast majority of Americans rank cutting health care and prescription drug costs as their top priorities heading into election season, regardless of party affiliation, according to a new POLITICO-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health survey.”

BIO Beltway Report

President Trump’s Wednesday: In Rancho Mirage, California, for schmoozing and fundraising, then Bakersfield to meet with farmers about water accessibility. (Here’s a little background in The New York Times.) Then, while he holds a rally in Phoenix, the top six Democratic candidates—including, for the first time, Mike Bloomberg—will debate at 9 p.m. ET in Las Vegas.

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: The House and Senate are in recess. Looking ahead to what we can expect on drug pricing once Congress returns, Sens. Jodi Ernst (R-IA) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) endorsed the Grassley-Wyden drug pricing bill, reports The Hill, bringing the total to 12 Republican supporters, with approximately 25 needed for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote. However, The Washington Post says there may not be enough bipartisan support.

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