Not All Chemicals Are Created Equal™

As recently reported at the Environmental Leader, in a story entitled Reality Bites: EPA Withdraws Two Draft Chemical Rules, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently withdrew two draft regulations intended to enhance chemical oversight. The lengthy report about this is a one-act play on how Washington often works. It’s frustrating. But well-beyond the sense of impatience one should get from this, there’s the more profound matter that delay and indecision and non-decisions can have on everyone’s health. One of the withdrawn rules, for example, as reported in the story … would have diminished the opportunity for chemical manufacturers to claim as confidential business information (CBI) (and thus prevent public disclosure) the chemical identity of substances identified in certain health and safety studies submitted to EPA.

I will leave it to you to guess who is thrilled by this news. As for me, sure, I have a vested interest in seeing as much disclosure as possible from chemical manufacturers. But I have an overarching human interest in it as well. Don’t you?

As one who is tasked with monitoring Washington political actions, particularly as they effect bio-based chemicals and bio-refinery initiatives, I’ve recently taken up the habit of checking local news stories across the land that chronicle various meetings lawmakers are having with constituents during this recess period. In sharp contrast to the look and feel of meetings on Capitol Hill, meetings in local districts tend to draw plain-speaking people with a genuine vested interest in the outcome of proposed legislation. In was in one of these accounts – in fact the last sentence of the story – that included something that may make most people’s jaws drop in the heartland. The sentence, from a story in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Gazette by James Q. Lynch entitled, Support for farm bill at U.S. Rep. Braley meeting fragmented, was this: The current farm bill expires Sept. 30. If Congress fails to act by that date, existing agricultural programs will end and farm policy will revert to the programs outlined in the 1949 Farm Bill.

It seems plausible to me that this potential outcome isn’t widely known throughout America. But it has been reported elsewhere. Here’s just one of many examples. It comes from a site called policymic in a story with the headline: Reforming the Farm Bill Isn’t Just About Money; It’s About America’s Health. In it, writer Olga Jbeili reports: If a new bill fails to pass, farm programs would lose billions of dollars and would go back to the 1949 law, which would reintroduce higher governments price supports for milk, corn, rice, wheat and could lead to higher consumer prices and federal spending.

1949? Seriously? If you really want to get a grip on just how long ago that was, scan this site at For example the first 45 rpm record was launched by RCA in 1949.  Ya, I know, what’s a 45 rpm record? OK, Harry Truman was President. And, for an additional glimpse into how ridiculous it would be to lash the 1949 bill onto 2013, see this from the WONKBLOG at The Washington Post, with special reference to the section entitled We’re going to party like it’s 1949.

The European Commission (EC) plans through the use of its own funds and investments by industry to generate €3.8 billion from 2014 to 2020 on the further development and advance of biobased industries in Europe. That’s the principal take away from this news item, courtesy of Specialty Chemicals Magazine. If you take a minute to read the piece, it becomes evident that European leadership totally gets the relationship between forward-thinking policy initiates and the speed at which innovations happen. Two, they have the public/private concept right. All you have to read are the first two paragraphs of the story. The EC knows what it aims to achieve, and they have accurately identified the expected benefits in terms of …generating growth and jobs in rural areas, reducing waste, in part by sourcing locally, offering sustainable alternatives to oil-based products and enhancing energy and food security.

In contrast, the U.S.Senate’s current version of the evolving Farm Bill includes total Biorefinery Assistance funding of $262.339 million ($245 million in mandatory funding + $17.339 million in discretionary funding). Source. Don’t get me wrong. This would be a wonderful step in the direction of furthering U.S. biorefinery leadership. But it still lacks the scale, the public/private component, and the long-term perspectives embodied in the EC’s six-year plan.

Congress is in recess. Members are presumably back home seeking constituent sentiments on any number of House and Senate initiatives or lack thereof. So, if you happen to attend a town meeting event hosted by your representative and if you care about the future of bio-based chemicals that can reduce America’s dependency on imported oil, put in a good word for biorefinery assistance funding in the next Farm Bill. I thank you, and your grandchildren will be grateful, too!

A pivotal market study has just been released as part of the ongoing European Union (EU) project called BioConSepT. Myriant along with 59 other companies contributed to the study and the findings could not be more encouraging in support of our emphasis to date on succinic acid – one of three green chemical intermediates targeted for the study – and our intermediate ‘drop-in’ product strategy.

For example, from the news report about the market study’s findings, written by Karen Laird and published in Plastics Today, comes this high-level summary: Next to the extensive analysis of the three intermediates, takeaways from the report included the observations that drop-in intermediates have the most promising outlook…

The study is also global and scope. As noted in the news item, the BioConSepT project, which is coordinated by the Dutch research institute TNO, boasts 31 partners from research & technology organizations, large industrial companies and small and medium-sized enterprises from 12 countries. The project has an overall budget of €13 million and was granted €8.9 million in EU funding.

Access to the full report is granted via a link in the news item or here.

On behalf of the team at Myriant, I want to extend our appreciation to the Department of Energy (DOE) for its Biomass 2013 event last week in Washington, D.C., and for their invitation to us to tell the Myriant story to-date. It was an excellent, two-day event from start to finish. And, for us, the opportunity to spotlight our growth and development in front of hundreds of diverse stakeholders in the bioenergy supply chain was a tremendous moment capping our recent milestones in the commercialization of bio-based chemicals. The session for which we were chosen to present, entitled Celebrating Successes – The Foundation of An Advanced Bioindustry, was the perfect showcase to highlight the DOE’s remarkable contributions to our organization and to detail the many positive outcomes that have occurred as a result of the Department’s advocacy of our vision.

The session also gave us the opportunity, in front of very influential people at the DOE and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) when it comes to federal policymaking, to note bio-industry funding options currently under consideration or long-discussed as beneficial next-steps in securing the future stability and growth of biomass initiatives. Specifically, our presentation noted the following:

…there’s more we can do and should do and it includes an essential expansion of reliable funding sources for major bio-refinery projects. Some food for thought:

Passage of the Master Limited Partnership (MLP) Act would go a long way in this direction. The ability to apply financing tools like MLPs and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) would speed plant funding and enable the industry to “cast a wider investor net” by allowing public investors to participate in financing bio-refineries.

On the policy side, passage of a Farm Bill, more specifically, the Senate version of the evolving Farm Bill, which recognizes the important ongoing economic and product benefits associated with contemporary bio-refinery projects. Requisite bi-partisan support is needed for a fully funded Farm Bill; one that provides mandatory funding for key energy titles and that also recognizes the importance of renewable chemicals on equal footing with bio-based fuels.

Tax reform and inclusion of monetizable production tax credits will also go a long way to spark investor enthusiasm, durability and commitment.

Overall, the audience heard a story of public-private partnership and also a story of our advances commercializing our technology platform. Our story was one of many now emerging, that renders skeptics somewhat at a loss when it comes to the contemporary reality of bio-based innovations and commercial operations. A famous quote used in my talk captured this, and resonated with an audience filled with hard-working and visionary people doing what so many have so long said could never be done.  The quote comes from British politician Tony Benn. He said, “It’s the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.”

We always knew it could be done and now it is becoming more and more undeniable among all the rest.