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November 26, 2012
Objection to biobased solvents fails

An industry consulting firm lodged an unusually strong objection to the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) listing of specialty precision cleaners and solvents in the federal Guidelines for Designating Biobased Products for Federal Procurement.   In its preamble to the final rule formalizing the listing, the USDA acknowledged the merits of several points raised by the firm but ultimately designated biobased cleaners and solvents along with 11 other product categories for inclusion in the federal program. 

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Replace petroleum products

USDA’s program to list biobased products for preferred procurement by federal agencies is mandated by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.  The statute requires that the USDA improve the demand for biobased products, spur development of the industrial base through value-added agricultural processing and manufacturing in rural communities, and enhance the nation’s energy security by substituting biobased products for products derived from imported oil and natural gas.  More than 10,000 products qualify for preferred procurement under the biopreferred program.

In the final rule, the USDA defines a biobased specialty precision cleaner or solvent as one with a minimum biobased content of at least 56 percent based on the amount of qualifying biobased carbon in the product as a percent of the weight (mass) of the total organic carbon in the finished product.  Federal agencies must give procurement preference to products that meet the qualifications no later than November 19, 2013. 

Safety concerns

In its comment, BFK Solutions of Pacific Palisades, California, stated that biobased specialty cleaners and solvents should not be included in the biopreferred inventory because of public safety concerns (e.g., leaching residues into reusable medical devices).  Other objections included the unestablished performance of such products, the need for product development, conflict with other regulations (including VOC content and emissions requirements and provisions in EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Program [SNAP]) for ozone-depleting substances), and the high costs to industry. 

BFK Solutions describes itself as an “industry leader in critical cleaning consulting” to “help manufacturers achieve the best choices for reliable, value-added, cost-effective product cleaning.”

Performance standards

In its response, the USDA states that it generally agrees that biobased specialty precision cleaners and solvents have not been shown to meet every performance need.  However, the Department emphasizes that the intent of the program is not to replace all traditional cleaners and that federal agencies must give preference to biobased products that meet performance requirements.  Agencies are not required to purchase and use products that are not capable of meeting reasonable performance expectations or are not competitively priced with nonbiobased products.

Regarding regulatory conflicts, a listing in the program does not relieve the product manufacturer of the obligation to comply with all applicable regulations.  The USDA states that its statutory authority extends only to the consideration of biobased content and does not include factors such as ozone depletion, flammability, or exposure limits.  The USDA also agrees that manufacturers may incur additional costs in developing biobased cleaners and solvents, that the government can play no role in reducing those costs, and that the responsibility to demonstrate acceptable performance and sell the products at a competitive price also is borne primarily by the manufacturers.   

Ultimately, the protest by BFK Solutions did not change USDA’s view that biobased specialty precision cleaners and solvents may perform as well as or better than traditional petroleum-based cleaners and therefore should be included in the federal biopreferred program.

USDA’s final rule adding 12 product categories to its biopreferred program was published in the November 19, 2012, FR.

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