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Winning the Future: Analyzing the CLEAN Future Act and Its Implications for Biofuels

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May 18, 2021

by Jenna Bloxom* (Advanced Biofuels USA)  The May 5th, 2021 Congressional hearing of the CLEAN Future Act: Driving Decarbonization of the Transportation Sector was a veritable marathon of legislative discourse just shy of four hours long as both parties debated what they deemed, in their own succinct if not melodramatic words, as the way to “winning the future”.  This particular test of deliberative endurance was certainly not the first nor the final hearing of the CLEAN Future Act, so the members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce focused on reiterating their broader arguments regarding the bill’s overall goals and impacts rather than any nuanced specifics found within its 981 pages.

The profound partisan split underscoring many of the current legislative endeavors on Capitol Hill was, likewise, the defining reality of this hearing for the Clean Future Act’s transportation objectives and the aggressive push for electric vehicle production, service, and demand.  According to their impassioned speeches, Republicans and Democrats do not disagree on the potential for EVs to revolutionize the transport and travel sectors while forever altering the economic and manufacturing realities in this country. However, the two parties significantly diverge on the best manner in which electrical vehicles and the corresponding infrastructure should be introduced, instituted, and implemented in the public sphere.

The main themes and debates which emerged from the congressional representatives’ statements and follow-up questions to the panel of six expert witnesses during the hearing are summarized as the following:

  • Innovation Drivers—Government vs. Consumers, Strategic Choice vs. Diversity: Much of the ideological opposition from the Republicans for the CLEAN Future Act centered squarely on the federal-level mandates for jumpstarting the decarbonization and electrification of transportation. While Democrats insisted that governmental standards and directives are critical to immediately incentivize the EV investments needed for tomorrow’s innovations and supply chains, the GOP remained adamant that consumers can and should determine the pace of transport electrification through market signaling.

Republican representatives argued that the CLEAN Future Act would reduce consumer choice by elevating EVs beyond their market capacities, stunting innovative pathways for other technologies and worsening hardships for consumers during the transitional period away from internal combustion engines.  The option for using biofuels in those engines was mentioned in only in passing. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who discussed the bill as part of “a government socialist agenda”, summarized the GOP perspective by saying:

“We should build upon our energy systems, not dismantle them.  We should stop attacking the source of American innovation, stop trying to pick winners and losers.  We should recognize the essential rule: technological innovation and American free enterprise serves to address climate risk.  Let’s win the future, let’s do it the American way.”

The Democrats refuted the notion that prioritizing EVs would reduce future technological competition, instead asserting that American ingenuity and innovation encouraged by reliable policy support and clear environmental goals would be the crucial linchpin for the U.S. to become the global powerhouse in green energy. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) also strongly contradicted the GOP regarding consumer options, insisting that the market had already decided the inevitability of EVs:

“Everyone has to understand that electric vehicles are the future.  That’s coming from the auto industry, itself; and, therefore, we need to do everything we can to ensure that America meets that future by making all the necessary investments now.”

  • Timeline for Objectives: Democrats argued that the fast-paced timeline outlined in the CLEAN Future Act for decarbonizing the U.S. transportation sector was imperative to successfully reduce GHG pollution as well as to contest the EV advancements already achieved in other regions around the world. Their GOP colleagues, however, insisted that the proposed schedules were too rushed and that the bill had vastly underestimated the length of time as well as the logistical costs required for this rapid increase in EV production and infrastructure expansion.
  • Global Competitiveness vs. Dependence: While Democrats asserted that the CLEAN Future Act and corresponding bills embody the opportunity to establish the U.S. as the dominant leader and agenda-setter in the global race for decarbonization, Republicans argued that a reliance on electric vehicles—as well as the need for lithium and other rare earth metals in their batteries—significantly undermines the country’s political and economic position in the international realm. GOP representatives were strongly opposed to the U.S. becoming dependent on both foreign supplies as well as supply chains, citing China’s position of power in battery manufacturing to be a serious threat to U.S. “energy independence” and standing in the global economy.
  • Domestic Advantage: The Republican objections to the dependency on battery-related imports necessitated by the CLEAN Future Act’s electrification goals were contradicted by the Democrats’ avowal that the bill pays special attention to developing and intensifying domestic technology, national commodity chains, and localized labor opportunities. In a rare unifying moment of the hearing, Democrats and Republicans, alike, emphasized the importance of decarbonization policies ushering in well-paying, long-term jobs for American workers.  Union leader expert witness Josh Nassar was repeatedly called upon to certify that the proposed legislation is tailored to improve U.S. labor force conditions and domestic economic growth.
  • Environmental Benefits and Equity: Expert witnesses attested to the long-term, positive environmental impacts of decarbonizing the transportation sector in support of the Democrats’ insistence that net zero carbon emissions are essential for climate goals and public health, but Republican representatives questioned the overall sustainability of EVs. The GOP suggested that the U.S. would simply be outsourcing the negative externalities of this technology due to the widely unregulated mining and labor practices common in the production of EV components and batteries abroad.
  • Socio-Economic Disparities: Despite specific programs in the CLEAN Future Act to prevent undue strain on lower income communities during the decarbonization transition, the GOP expressed concern for the inequality of the benefits versus the hardships felt by different districts during the electrification process, particularly as wealthier communities are able to more easily afford EVs, access reliable charging infrastructure, and pay higher electricity bills without financial difficulty. Democrats asserted that poorer regions would directly benefit from the legislation as they are proven to be disproportionately affected by GHG pollution in terms of health and air quality.  The Democrats also maintained that there would not be notable rate-based changes across the grid associated with the increased electrical usage for EV charging and that EV infrastructure would bring economic advancement to underdeveloped areas.
  • Consumer Experience and Expectations: While Democrats and Republicans continued to disagree over the future ease of charging EVs for daily drivers, both parties acknowledged that the logistics for travelling long distances will challenge consumer habits during the decarbonization process. Since the threat of “range anxiety” would discourage Americans from purchasing EVs as their main form of transportation, the Democrats championed the need to pass the CLEAN Future Act in conjunction with Biden’s proposed American Jobs Act of 2021 as it contains plans for the buildout of 500,000 EV charging stations by 2030. The entire committee was additionally aligned in their recognition that the co-location of charging stations and traditional gas pumps would have a practical appeal to all drivers in keeping with the familiar security, convenience, and amenities associated with today’s filling stations.  However, speaking on behalf of fuel corporations, expert witness AJ Siccardi pointed out that gas station providers have no incentive to pursue EV charging compatibility as they would be forced to buy electricity at set rate prices from utilities, leaving no room for profit when selling that energy to EV owners.
  • Rural versus Urban Imbalances: While several GOP representatives expressed interest in EV technology and its financial opportunities upon installment, the staunchest opposition was raised by Republicans from rural areas who did not expect to see EV construction in their districts for many years. These committee members disagreed with sweeping federal legislation for decarbonization when the manifestations of the EV transition would be distributed differently to rural and urban areas given the practicalities of consumer demand and cost.  Democrats pointed to examples, including David Jankowsky’s testimony regarding the widespread construction of charging stations across Oklahoma, to reinforce their argument that less populated regions would not be left behind in the shift to EVs.


“The purpose of this hearing for the CLEAN Future Act and its concomitant bills was to discuss the decarbonization (rather than the defossilization) of the U.S. transportation sector with the assumption that the needed electricity would come from renewable (wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear, or hydroelectric) sources.”

This purpose of this hearing for the CLEAN Future Act and its concomitant bills was to discuss the decarbonization (rather than the defossilization) of the U.S. transportation sector with the assumption that the needed electricity would come from renewable (wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear, or hydroelectric) sources.  So, it was unsurprising that biofuels were only mentioned in passing twice during the almost four hours of EV discourse, making it rather disconcerting that biofuels’ inclusion into this passionate debate pertaining to the country’s future transportation energy constituted less than ten words, with those limited syllables all uttered by Republicans.  Within the circumstances and implications of the CLEAN Future Act, it is the GOP rather than the Democrats that prove willing to deem renewable fuels a worthy topic relating to tomorrow’s green energy possibilities.  Even untried, nascent hydrogen technology generated more attention and interest for representatives during the hearing than the well-established and functional biofuels industry.

The CLEAN Future Act, itself, approaches monstrous territory with almost 1,000 pages framing a multitude of energy and industry-related programs, standards, and initiatives to assess and progress climate goals culminating with zero net carbon targets in 2030 and 2050.

Regrettably, this bill only contains only a handful of paragraphs dedicated to addressing traditional combustion engines which will be using fuel for decades to come. The most detailed of those paragraphs outline statutes pertaining to the establishment of commercial aircraft emission standards which match or exceed those announced by the International Civil Aviation Organization’s CAEP/10 objectives for carbon dioxide pollution.  If the CLEAN Future Act is intended to vocalize a precedent for the future of U.S. transportation, then it absolutely screams a new realty for renewable fuels, one in which the industry may be relatively isolated and largely have to settle for smaller, less distinguished legislation.

That is not to suggest that the successful passage of bills like the CLEAN Future Act will exterminate biofuels or interrupt their role for both light and heavy-duty vehicles anytime in the near future. 

The CLEAN Future Act faces a multitude of uphill hurdles even if it does become law: decarbonization standards must send the right signals to spur the market into action; society must be convinced of the tangible and hypothetical benefits of EVs; domestic technology development and manufacturing must prove to be competitive with rest of the world; and the creation and management of a revolutionary infrastructure must take place over many Presidential administrations. 

The realities of building this EV infrastructure represent the most daunting challenges facing the CLEAN Future Act as voters in the U.S. are notorious for first supporting, then punishing, leaders who enact infrastructure plans as these expensive projects tend to drag on for years and often produce few noticeable differences.

As Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA) pointed out, The CLEAN Future Act cannot be successful without also passing Biden’s American Jobs Act since this related bill would provide $15 billion for a national EV charging network as well as a total of $174 billion over eight years for an array of EV grants and incentives.  These funding proposals sound astronomical, but as David Jankowsky discussed, the upfront capital to install the first dispenser at an EV supercharger station runs about $400,000—and, of course, not all charging stations (ideally, one every fifty miles across the country) will offer the same charging speeds or utility rates.  Constituents, therefore, will be wary of such incredible spending and are likely to be impatient for the infrastructure to show some type of immediate proof of progress.

But beyond the planning obstacles, short timeframe to meet goals, and financial realities of installing a reliable and available charging network, Americans will need to rapidly alter their attitudes about EVs.  People are skeptical of their performance, their environmental record, and even their image, which is currently associated with upper-class tree-huggers.  Plus, many people will remain unconvinced of the financial and technological benefits associated with EVs because they will have no firsthand experience with them; Joe Britton testified that 70 percent of American consumers are not even in the market for a new car, so the displacement and/or replacement of ICEs for EVs will be a slow and expensive endeavor in even the wealthiest communities.

In short, EVs have a cornucopia of battles to fight, but legislation like the CLEAN Future Act and even the American Jobs Act are evidence that electric vehicles are the chosen technological direction for the future of the United States.  None of the committee members disputed the role of EVs as the proverbial North Star guiding the nation’s transportation sector, and even as a divided entity, Congress seemed more willing to bet on a system that has yet to be developed than to go back to promoting biofuels as the environmental bastion of hope. 

The CLEAN Future Act, therefore, is policy confirmation that decarbonization, a mysterious and nebulous concept, is more appealing to lawmakers than the more attainable defossilization of liquid transportation fuel. 

And, course, now that the EV industry is rooted in the legislative limelight, it does not have anything to gain from sharing its popularity with other green energy technologies.

Nevertheless, the fate of those “other” energy options are still anything but hopeless.  Bio-based alternatives like sustainable aviation fuel and renewable diesel will undoubtedly receive the lion’s share of federal and state policy support regarding ICEs because they symbolize new biotechnology with non-traditional feedstocks and because they solve problems that electrification cannot.

Based on the speeches and debates from this CLEAN Future Act hearing, ethanol and biodiesel will likely be relegated as a ‘stepping stone’ or ‘placeholder’ technology implanted in the past, now only deserving of major funding that can be useful for a wider range of potential applications.  These biofuels will likely be further pushed into association with agricultural concerns rather epitomizing an independent energy solution for tomorrow. But, they certainly won’t disappear overnight, even with increased demand for EVs, as the agricultural sector needs robust biofuels mandates to help recover from the Trump-era tariffs.

The future of biofuels is not bleak by any means, but this industry will have to navigate a new reality in which electrification is the unequivocal priority for transportation, not just power.  Facing today’s electrification-obsessed politicians, the bio-based liquid transportation fuel industry should consider the following prescriptions to increase their significance:

  • Publicly emphasize the benefits of defossilization over decarbonization, namely in terms of the more immediate reductions in GHG reductions with fewer transformative infrastructure requirements
  • Market green hydrocarbons such as renewable diesel and SAF as a modern-day energy ingenuity and revolutionary innovation, downplaying their familial ties to ethanol and biodiesel
  • Build new relationships with policymakers based on their current government-forward investment trajectory; if Biden’s Congress wants to heavily invest in green technology, becoming a prominent player in that narrative is key
  • Invest in public education and outreach regarding the benefits of bio-based fuels and green hydrocarbons so that consumers know their choices in the fight to reduce GHG emissions


Hearing:  The CLEAN Future Act: Driving Decarbonization of the Transportation Sector

Date: May 5, 2021

Proposed Legislation Discussed:

      -H.R. 1512, the “Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s Future


      -H.R. 2852, the ‘No EXHAUST Act”

      -H.R. 1221, the “Electric Vehicles for Underserved Communities Act of 2021”

      -H.R. 2308, the “Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Future Act of 2021”

Expert Witnesses:

      ■ Amol Phadke, M.S., Ph.D. – Staff Scientist and Deputy Departmental Head,

         International Energy Analysis Department Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

      ■ Joe Britton – Executive Director, Zero Emissions Transportation Association

      ■ Josh Nassar – Legislative Director, International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace

        and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW)

      ■ David Jankowsky – Founder and President, Francis Energy

      ■ Michelle Michot Foss, Ph.D. – Fellow in Energy and Minerals, Baker Institute for

    Public Policy, Center for Energy Studies, Rice University

      ■ AJ Siccardi – President, Metroplex Energy

The CLEAN Future Act and several interrelated bills including the “No EXAUST Act”, the “Electric Vehicles for Underserved Communities Act”, and “ATVM Future Act”, are designed to collectively become the seminal legislation to decarbonize the United States’ energy and industrial sectors for purposes of environmental and economic transformation.  Inspired by the United Nation’s IPCC recommendations to avoid irreversible consequences of anthropogenic climate change, the underlying ambition of the CLEAN Future Act is to “achieve net zero greenhouse gas pollution no later than 2050, with an interim target of reducing pollution by 50 percent from 2005 levels no later than 2030.”  The bill’s intended programs and standards to reduce carbon emissions target a wide variety of the major GHG polluters in the U.S. such as the power, transportation, building, and industrial sectors, but this proposed law also creates complimentary plans for federal and state climate initiatives, green R&D, community and labor transitions, plastic and waste reductions, and environmental justice provisions.

To learn more about the CLEAN Future Act and its components or to access the bill’s text, please use this link:


*Jenna Bloxom is a political scientist with fourteen years of combined professional and research experience specific to biofuel policies and technology, the politics of innovation, and natural resource management. With practical training in both the domestic and international arenas, Bloxom executed strategic public outreach in the private sector as well as for interest groups including ACORE in addition to a stint in academia teaching bioenergy policy graduate courses and publishing on renewables-based economic development in U.S. cities. As the first political scientist admitted to Colorado State University’s NSF-funded IGERT bioenergy program, Bloxom pursued an interdisciplinary Ph.D. by utilizing a scientific emphasis to study the viability of sustainable aviation fuel in conjunction with the intrinsic policy foundations of this emerging global production network.


Daybreak May 19: EVs surfacing as infrastructure flashpoint (Agri-Pulse)

Biden’s conundrum: Expand EVs without harming the Earth (E&E News)


Excerpt from Agri-Pulse:  electric vehicle plant on Tuesday, is getting pushback from Republicans on a couple of fronts. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa prefers to focus on biofuels. “Unfortunately, many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have their heads stuck in the sand when it comes to renewable energy sources that are already available.”  READ MORE


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agreements Ohio oil oil/gas terminals oil embargo oil exploration oil monopoly oil price parity oil prices oil production oil refineries oil replacement Oils oil sands oil seed oil seed crops oil speculators oil spill oil subsidies oil taxes Oklahoma olefins oligomerization olive cake olive oil olive pits olives olive water Oman Omega-3s on-farm algae production on-farm biodiesel on-farm ethanol production on-farm natural gas production on-farm processing one pound waiver onion waste online courses Ontario OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) open fuel standard open pond optimized flex fuel vehicles orange peel orchard grass orchard prunings Oregon organic solar cells Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) OSHA overview overview/survey course oxygen oxygenate ozone Pakistan Palau palm palm biomass palm fatty acid distillate palm fiber palm fronds palm kernel palm kernel oil palm kernel shell palm oil palm oil mill effluent (POME) palm oil 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