With Labor Day behind us, Washington D.C. has officially ended summer vacation and gotten back to work. Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol producers are no exception, and we’ve renewed our efforts making the case for advanced biofuels.

To kick things off this week, Joel Velasco – senior vice president of California-based renewable fuels company Amyris and board advisor to the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) – sat down for an interview on E&ETV, an influential webcast on Capitol Hill featuring energy and environmental policy leaders.

Joel offers unique insights into the advanced biofuels industry because (besides his advisory role with UNICA) he is also senior vice president of California-based renewable fuels company Amyris and a board member of the Advanced Biofuels Association.  Joel shared his perspective on several key topics:

The state of play for renewable fuels in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may have officially lowered the 2013 target for cellulosic ethanol and announced it will probably reduce volumes for other advanced biofuels starting in 2014, but that doesn’t mean an end to sugarcane ethanol’s modest but important role supplying America with clean renewable fuel.  According to Velasco:

“What EPA did during the summer break was to basically finalize the rule they had already proposed earlier this year that said, we don’t have the cellulosic fuels but we do have other advanced fuels – let’s continue going on that path.”

“We’re really talking about an increase from 2013 to 2014, as the law was written, of about a billion gallons. Most of that was going to be cellulosic biofuels – those we know are probably not going to be available for 2014. The big question is how much of that cellulosic they’re (EPA) going to waive into the other advanced pools, and how much of that cellulosic is just going to disappear or is not going to be required.”

Congress’ next steps on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). While EPA sets the annual targets and administers the program, Congress has also been working on the future of renewable fuels policy, starting with the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s white paper process.   Joel opined:

“The committee should be commended for having this white paper process…I really think this was a unique way to get stakeholder input. It allowed everybody who had a stake in the game to actually provide input on a number of issues. I think the committee now has all the views that they need to look at.”

Obviously, if they get into this, we’re getting into a situation of then opening the Clean Air Act and making amendments to it…Once you start messing with the Clean Air Act all kinds of folks are going to get involved, and I just don’t think the legislative calendar will allow for some sort of (legislative) reform.“

Expanding Brazil-U.S. biofuels trade. Global ethanol trade is creating economic and environmental benefits for both Brazil and the U.S. That growing relationship is anchored by fair trade and the RFS, and may expand during the first-ever biofuels trade mission coming up between the two countries.  Velasco explained:

“Brazil and the United States are the world’s two largest producers of biofuel…And I think both countries, whether it’s President Obama here or President Rousseff in Brazil are committed to pursuing that deep relationship. We have a lot to celebrate – neither country has barriers for their biofuels, the ethanol tariff is gone here, Brazil has maintained a zero tariff there, and the subsidies are pretty much ended. So now it’s time to talk about what markets can we build beyond our two countries, and how do we strengthen the relationship?”

“The Advanced Biofuel Association, Renewable Fuel Association, and Unica are going to bring together companies in Brazil (for American biofuels companies)…And we will see what are the other options we have not just in Brazil or the U.S., but around the world. I think this is a great step in the right direction, and it’s proof that the RFS is working because these industries are being formed and we’re looking at how we can actually deepen the integration between these two economies.”

Joel’s interview comes at an important time for the advanced biofuels industry, both here and abroad. Sugarcane ethanol is a key component to America’s renewable fuel goals and Brazil is committed to continue growing as a trusted trade partner with the U.S. As debate over the future of the RFS continues, we’ll continue to highlight the importance of maintaining access to clean renewable biofuels.

Leticia Phillips

Leticia Phillips

Leticia Phillips is UNICA’s Representative for North America. Ms. Phillips is an expert on Brazil-US relations and leads the Brazilian sugarcane industry’s advocacy efforts before the main stakeholders in the region, including the US Congress, Federal agencies, State legislators and business and civil society.