Not All Chemicals Are Created Equal™

plant-at-nightIn this feature from The News Star, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal reviews a number of jobs-related successes since 2008 that have helped the state sustain and advance more prosperous times. Whether or not you’re politically aligned with the Governor, in terms of attracting jobs and industry, Louisiana is on a roll. He notes, for example, that …for the past five years in a row, more people have been moving into Louisiana than moving out of our state, reversing a 25-year trend…

One of the positive factors mentioned by the Governor in his review is Myriant’s Lake Providence plant which became operational earlier this year. But for the record, while we’re proud of this milestone and grateful for the Governor’s spotlight on us, it is we who owe a tribute to the state, not the other way around. Louisiana, its people, its infrastructure, its business policies and a host of other factors have significantly contributed to Myriant’s opportunity and success in the region.

biofuels-digestBioFuels Digest subscribers and an invited panel of distinguished international selectors recently completed their voting for the top companies in Biobased Chemicals & Materials for 2013-14. The result: Myriant earned the #3 spot on the list. The rankings, as reported by Jim Lane of BioFuels Digest recognize innovation and achievement in the sector.

Of course we aspire to be #1, but third on the list of the hottest 30 companies in our industry is nothing to scoff at. It shows we’re becoming more well-known. More people understand what we do, and how and why we do it. And, we’ve achieved a number of fundamentals and milestones, on plan and as promised. This demonstrates we have both a solid scientific vision and a business strategy that is working.

Confirming all this is the fact that Myriant is more and more often making people’s top lists. For example, as reported here, analysts at Lux Research combed through the 415 companies they profiled in the third quarter of 2013 to select 10 firms whose performance points to a near-term growth opportunity. We’re on that list, too!

On Wednesday October 9th at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had planned to convene a one-day forum to discuss Business Value Creation Though Green Chemistry.  For those who think everything the government has a hand in is all about what the government can do, this meeting was all about and all for leaders from business and industry, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, non-profit groups, U.S. EPA and others involved in the application of green chemistry principles to bring high value products to the market that are safer, healthier and more sustainable. In other words, it was to be an “Ask not what your country can do for you…”  kind of day.

In the name of full-disclosure, Myriant was to be an important contributor to the Case Studies portion of the day’s events. But it’s not happening. The government shutdown literally shut down this discussion. For the record, we’re not frustrated by the loss of yet one more speaking opportunity. Myriant wins its fair share of the limelight and we appreciate it. But in this instance, we’re frustrated because this cancellation points directly to the unintended consequences of the blunt instrument of a political process that renders good things dead in the water. A government agency in this case is trying to help Myriant and others find ways to rely less on government agencies. That’s a good thing. A wholesale, ham-handed shutdown is, in contrast, a bad thing.

But there are political points to be scored; re-election prospects to shore up; tea party and liberal base affiliations to secure. Where’s right and wrong? Where’s what is good or not so good for the future of the nation and its people? This is probably where Washington has made its greatest miscalculation. Does not the nation now know that when the Congress contemplates the future, it is the future of their political prospects that loom largest in their calculus?

A triviality, you think?  The one-day event can be re-scheduled, right? Probably. But here’s some additional information that I know to be true or have on good authority about the shutdown as it affects our industry: the government shutdown directly impacts all regulatory and legislative efforts affecting the biofuels and renewable chemicals industries, including work on the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). It will almost certainly delay upcoming expected rulemakings, including the EPA’s proposed rule setting the 2014 renewable volume obligations (RVO) under the RFS. It is reported that nearly 95 percent of EPA’s staff has been furloughed during the shutdown, leaving only 17 employees working in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation and three working in the Office of Water. Three? Seriously?

Not only did the U.S. government shut down, but so did the nine month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. With no new five-year Farm Bill, the future is uncertain for rural energy programs supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), including the Biorefinery Assistance Program that promotes the development of biorefineries in the U.S.

Have you seen the Sunday news-talk shows over the past couple of weeks? Seems to me the shutdown is a cry for attention among Washington legislators every bit as nutty needy as Miley Cyrus and her decision to ride a wrecking ball while virtually naked and, dare I use the word, ‘singing?’ ‘Watch me, see me, hear me?’ How better to revive one’s political and/or theatrical standing than by outrageous behavior, right?  It’s like DC is run by Rep.Charley Sheen, Sen. Alec Baldwin, White House Aid Lindsay Lohan, etc. Give me a break!

I can’t speak for you, but for me, I am perplexed why the President and the House Speaker and the Senate President and minority and majority leaders in every nook and cranny have all this time to talk on camera for public consumption, but no time for one another, face-to-face, eyeball-to eyeball, for hardball versus some Emmy-award-winning candy-(cane?) performance on camera calling one another names, playing the blame game, posturing, prognosticating, and pushing painfully-vapid party line talking points average Americans see right through and are sick of hearing.

Where are the leaders like Lyndon Johnson who would grab legislators by the labels and do a deal, doggone it? Where is our generation’s Sam Rayburn?  And, Massachusetts favorite Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill, Jr.? Where are today’s potential candidates for a sequel to JFK’s ‘Profiles in Courage,’ the book detailing acts of political risk and resolve by eight United States Senators?

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) says it best in its recent ‘thank-you’ letter, co-signed by executives from 38 renewable chemical companies, that was sent to five members of the House of Representatives who are sponsoring H.R. 3084, the Qualifying Renewable Chemical Production Tax Credit Act of 2013. In the note, BIO points out:  “Production tax credits are currently offered to incumbent fossil energy industries and other U.S. energy sectors…” If passed, H.R. 3084 would end the long-standing double standard of tax- credit benefits traditionally permitted for petroleum-based operations but not available to bio-based chemical companies.

A report about BIO’s letter is here. More about the bill, which has been referred to Ways and Means, is here.

Such legislation is long overdue. A word or two from you to your local representative could help make the difference and speed the preferred Congressional outcome.