Early this morning, both houses of Congress approved the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018,” complex legislation that includes important modifications to an arcane law known as the “rum cover over,” which is an important revenue source for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (USVI).

The temporary excise tax relief provided to distillers in the 2017 federal tax reform law will not diminish the amount of federal excise tax revenue covered over to the treasuries of Puerto Rico and the USVI. The 2017 tax reform law included a two year reduction in the federal distilled spirits excise tax rate from $13.50 per proof gallon to $2.70 per proof gallon on the first 100,000 proof gallons of distilled spirits, and $13.34 per proof gallon on the next 22,130,000 proof gallons produced by each distillery or each controlled group of distilleries. The 2018 Budget Act treats all rum subject to the rum cover over as if it is subject to the full $13.50 per gallon excise tax rate. Continue Reading Additional Rum Cover Over for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands Approved in 2018 Budget Legislation

Last week in its regular newsletter, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced updates to the Fall edition of the semi-annual Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (Regulatory Agenda). Like other federal agencies, TTB uses the Regulatory Agenda to report on its current rulemaking projects.

In the updated agenda, a few new items have been added, and many expected publication dates of Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRMs), Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRMs) and Final Rules have changed. As always, readers should recognize that TTB rulemaking moves very slowly, and the Agency often does not meet the aspirational dates published in the Regulatory Agenda. Continue Reading TTB Updates to the Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda

This post does not constitute tax advice. It summarizes changes in alcohol beverage excise tax laws to assist industry members in planning to implement the changes. Excise tax calculations and liability must be determined for each taxpayer based on numerous variables.

The new tax law formerly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, provides a temporary reduction in alcohol beverage excise taxes for US brewers, winemakers, distillers and beverage importers. Temporary tax relief is available for beer, wine and spirits removed from a US manufacturing facility or released from Custom’s custody after January 1, 2018, and prior to December 31, 2019. Several provisions of the new law will require the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to quickly promulgate new regulations. Continue Reading Excise Tax Relief for Breweries, Wineries and Distilleries

On January 30, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order No. 13771, entitled “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.” A link to Executive Oder 13771 appears here.  The Order provides:

  1. For Fiscal Year 2017 (which ends September 30, 2017):
    1. For each new “regulation” published for notice and comment “or otherwise promulgated,” the agency in question must “identify” two existing regulations to be repealed. Notably, the Order does not require the repeal to be concurrent with the publication or promulgation of the new regulation.
    2. For Fiscal Year 2017, each agency must ensure that the total incremental costs of all new and repealed regulations shall not exceed zero, unless otherwise required by law or as consistent with the advice of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Order does not specify whether the costs in question represent costs to the agency, costs to the government or total societal costs. It also does not provide any guidance on how to calculate such costs.
    3. To the extent permitted by law, the costs of any new regulations shall be offset by the elimination of costs associated with at least two existing regulations. Once again, the Order provides no guidance on what constitute costs of a regulation or how to calculate such costs.
    4. The OMB is directed to provide agencies with guidance on how to implement the Order.
  2. Beginning with Fiscal Year 2018 (which begins October 1, 2017):
    1. The semi-annual Unified Regulatory Agenda for each agency must: (i) identify for each new regulation “that increases incremental cost,” two offsetting regulations; and (ii) provide an approximation of the total costs or savings for each new and repealed regulation.
    2. Each regulation approved by the OMB shall be included in the Unified Regulatory Agenda.
    3. Unless otherwise required by law, agencies may not issue new regulations that were not listed in the most recent Unified Regulatory Agenda.
    4. During the budgeting process, the OMB shall notify agencies of the total costs per agency that will be allowed in issuing and repealing new regulations for the upcoming fiscal year.
    5. The OMB shall provide agencies with guidance on implementing the Order’s requirements.

Executive Oder 13771 applies to each “executive department or agency,” but leaves a number of government regulatory functions outside of its scope. These include agencies involved in military, national security, and foreign affairs functions, as well as any government organization arising from the Legislative or Judicial branches. Nevertheless, the Order applies to a vast swath of the federal bureaucracy.

On its face, Executive Order 13771 could have a significant impact on the pace of federal rulemaking during the Trump Administration. The “two-for-one” requirement, in particular, appears to be a blunt instrument aimed at shrinking the Code of Federal Regulations. Moreover, the explicit requirement for cost estimates and “zero” total costs flowing from the rulemaking process plainly seeks to halt the growth and costs of the federal administrative state.

But the jury remains out on the practical impact of Executive Order 13771. Longstanding observers of the federal bureaucracy will, no doubt, recall that the Paperwork Reduction Act (1980), Executive Order 12866 (1993), the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, and other measures all failed to noticeably slow the growth or improve the functioning of the administrative state. In that spirit, President Trump’s Executive Order leaves many questions unanswered:

  1. Much hinges on the interpretation of “costs” referenced throughout the Executive Order. Does this mean the costs to the Agency, the entire federal government or society at large? And, particularly if “costs” are defined broadly, how will agencies and/or the OMB calculate such costs? The OMB presumably must arrive at answers to these fundamental questions.
  2. While a “rule” has a defined meaning in administrative law, a “regulation” does not. While the Order purports to define the term, as every lawyer in an administrative practice knows, individual “sections” within the Code of Federal Regulations are called “regulations” and come in many sizes. Does an agency satisfy the “two-for-one” rule by replacing two one-sentence regulations with a single ten-sentence regulation? The opportunities to “game” the Executive Order’s mandate seem endless.
  3. The Executive Order might not withstand a legal challenge. While the President yields broad authority over most administrative agencies, nothing in current law authorizes a “two-for-one” rule. While a full analysis is beyond the scope of this note, on its face the Order seems to push the boundaries of what a President can mandate by Executive Order.

Finally, the Executive Order may accelerate the unfortunate trend of agencies to make rules through informal documents instead of the notice-and-comment rulemaking process mandated by the Administrative Procedures Act. During the past several decades, many agencies have sought to shortcut the rulemaking process by asserting that any number of substantive rules are mere “interpretations” not subject to notice-and-comment. Too often, the legal costs and potential for relationship damage involved in challenging such rules outweighs the benefit of a challenge. (For example, how willing is a heavily-regulated brewery, winery or distillery to engage in protracted litigation with the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau?)  As a result, usually the regulated public tacitly accepts this subversion of Administrative Procedures Act requirements – requirements that flow directly from the Fifth Amendment’s requirement for Due Process of Law. By making formal notice-and-comment rulemaking even more burdensome, Executive Order 13771 will likely accelerate the pace of regulation by internet posting, bottom-drawer regulation, letter ruling and other means that do not provide the regulated public with notice and an opportunity to comment on legal requirements that will affect them.

In the end, then, President Trump’s Executive Order on Reducing Regulations leaves many important questions unanswered and, like other like-minded actions before it (e.g., the Paperwork Reduction Act), may not progress the objective of simplifying and reducing the federal bureaucracy.

On December 23rd, 2016 the federal government published its Fall edition of the “Unified Agenda” – a bi-annual compilation of all ongoing federal rulemaking projects. Attached is a copy of the TTB detail from this latest Unified Agenda. As always, projected future publication dates should be viewed with a very healthy dose of skepticism.

TTB’s portion of the Unified Agenda identifies the following “priority” items:

  1. Final rules implementing the International Trade Data System (ITDS). TTB published these final rules on December 22, 2016 – mission accomplished.
  2. Revisions to TTB regulations to implement the “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015” (PATH Act). Among other things, the PATH Act amended the Internal Revenue Code definition of “hard cider” and changed the bonding requirements for small excise taxpayers. While listed as a priority for action in late 2016, TTB has shown little ability to quickly amend its regulations to reflect statutory changes enacted by Congress (see Taxpayer Relief Act note below).
  3. Revisions to modify and streamline TTB’s wine, distilled spirits, and malt beverage labeling regulations. This item has appeared in the Unified Agenda for several years, and apparently stems from a January 2011 Executive Order requiring the identification and elimination of outmoded and burdensome regulations. The Unified Agenda lists a December 2016 publication date for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on this subject.
  4. Back on the “priority” list of this Unified Agenda is the NPRM permitting the self-certification of nonbeverage product formulas. Projected publication of that NPRM now has slipped to September 2017.
  5. A project to combine the current four forms required for reporting by distilled spirits plants (DSPs) into two report forms now receives priority status. Originally proposed in December 2011, TTB now expects to publish a 2017 “Supplemental NPRM” to gather more comments on the subject.

Among the other TTB rulemaking projects industry members may take an interest in are the following:

  1. TTB’s allergen labeling rulemaking, initiated in April 2005, remains on the Unified Agenda, but under the heading of “Next Action Undetermined.”  This suggests that TTB may walk away from mandatory allergen labeling altogether.
  2. TTB is considering amendments to the “standards of fill” for wine and distilled spirits, with an NPRM projected date of April 2017.
  3. A new item proposes an NPRM to amend the wine labeling regulations in order to better address the labeling of flavored wines.  The project arises from a petition received by TTB and projects an April 2017 publication date.
  4. TTB has withdrawn (and presumably abandoned) the rulemaking project, commenced in 2010, to further define the use of terms like “estate bottled” on wine labels.
  5. TTB continues to plan for a “Supplemental NPRM” to solicit additional comments on the use of an American viticultural area as an appellation on a wine finished in an adjacent state.  TTB now expects to publish the Supplemental NPRM in January 2017.
  6. Final rules arising from the August 2016 NPRM proposal to impose certain Federal Alcohol Administration Act labeling requirements on wines below 7% alcohol by volume are expected in September 2017.
  7. TTB expects to publish an NPRM to permit the labeling of fortified wines in a manner that discloses the addition of grape spirits or brandy to the wine in September 2017.
  8. TTB still promises action to adopt regulations implementing the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997.  That NPRM now is scheduled to appear in April 2017.

The new TTB Final Rule that was released in the Federal Register on August 20, 2016 will partially streamline the use of non-beverage alcohol products in the US. While statutory requirements do not permit TTB to completely de-regulate the distribution and sale of denatured alcohol, the attached rule, among other things:

  1. Reclassifies a number of “specially denatured alcohol” (“SDA”) formulas as “completely denatured alcohol” (“CDA”). As the regulatory requirements for distributing CDA are much less stringent than those that apply to SDA, these reclassifications amount to a lessening of regulatory burdens for companies dealing in such products.
  2. Establishes additional “general use formulas,” which permit the production of SDA products without the need for a specific TTB formula approval.
  3. Exempts distilled spirits plant (“DSP”) operators from the requirements to obtain an additional permit to produce and handle SDA products within the bonded premises of a DSP.
  4. Makes a variety of technical changes and deletions to the regulations in order to meet what TTB views as current industry practice.

While the TTB reforms do not deregulate SDA use to the extent that most producers and users would like, the Final Rule represents a welcome step in the direction of deregulation and simplification. A substantially more radical deregulation of such products would require statutory changes and therefore are beyond the realm of what TTB can accomplish on its own.

As it does twice per year, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) recently published its projected Regulatory Agenda as part of the federal government’s “Unified Agenda.”  Links to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s portions of the Unified Agenda appear below.

TTB’s latest contribution to the Unified Agenda lists six priority projects that it hopes to publish rulemaking notices on in 2016:

  1. Revise TTB’s import and export regulations to make them compatible with the International Trade Data System (ITDS).  ITDS aims to create a single electronic exchange portal for all import and export activities.  TTB expects to propose these new regulations by March 2016.
  2. Revise TTB’s labeling regulations for wine, distilled spirits, and malt beverages (beer) to eliminate outmoded, ineffective and excessively burdensome regulations.  TTB plans to propose these revised regulations for industry and public comment sometime before the end of 2016.
  3. Finalize new regulations on specially denatured and completely denatured alcohols.  Most notably, the new regulations would re-classify many specially denatured alcohol products as completely denatured alcohols – greatly reducing the amount of regulatory oversight over such products.  The final regulations would build off a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published in June of 2013, and TTB expects to finalize these regulations shortly.
  4. Propose new regulations to permit the self-certification of flavors and other non-beverage articles as eligible for “drawback.”  By permitting industry self-certification, TTB would greatly reduce the number of regulatory filings required of the flavor, extract and fragrance industries.  TTB expects to publish proposed regulations before June 2016, coupled with a “Temporary Rule” permitting industry members to begin self-certification immediately.
  5. Revise the Distilled Spirits Plant (DSP) regulations to reduce the TTB-mandated monthly reports required by DSP operators from four to two.  $11,000 to $16,000.Already subject to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 2011, TTB plans to press ahead with a “Supplemental” Notice by March 2016.
  6. Make an inflation-adjustment to the civil penalties for violations of the Alcohol Beverage Labeling Act of 1988, which mandated the now-familiar Government Warning on all alcohol beverage labels.  TTB plans to publish a Final Rule in 2016 to raise the maximum penalty for violations from $11,000 to $16,000.

In addition to the six priority items above, TTB’s portion of the Unified Agenda includes dozens of other rulemaking projects, from those completed in the most recent fiscal year to issues expected to be first raised in a rulemaking notice during the following year.  As with prior years, the industry must view TTB’s expected publication and completion dates with a great degree of caution, as resource challenges, political pressure and other factors often delay the rulemaking process.

Click here to view the Statement of Priorities.

Click here to view the All Treasury Agenda.

Late last year, the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) published its semi-annual regulatory agenda in the Federal Register.  The agenda provides useful insights into TTB’s regulatory plans and goals for the coming year.  As in prior years, however, observers should recognize that TTB often announces ambitious regulatory plans and deadlines that it does not meet.

TTB identified five priority projects for 2015.  First, TTB wishes to update and modernize its regulations on the labeling and advertising of wine (Pt. 4), distilled spirits (Pt. 5) and beer (Pt. 7).  In describing the initiative, TTB seems most interested in simplification and streamlining, not in the imposition of significant new labeling and advertising requirements.  Second, TTB seeks to further de-regulate and streamline its oversight of denatured alcohol and rum, a move that could help the competitiveness of U.S. industrial operations that employ alcohol.  Third, TTB wishes to amend its export and import regulations to harmonize them with the International Trade Data System (ITDS), thereby transitioning to an all-electronic import and export environment.  Fourth, TTB hopes to implement self-certification of the formulas for flavors, extracts and other non-beverage products made with alcohol.  Fifth, TTB plans to review its distilled spirits plant regulations (Pt. 19) in order to replace the current four monthly report forms required for reporting with two forms.

Leaving priorities aside, the semi-annual agenda reports on a number of rulemaking initiatives that should attract the interest of regulated industry members.  This note will group the most significant based on the affected industry:

Multiple Alcohol Beverage Categories

  1. TTB pledges to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to modernize its wine, spirits, and beer labeling and advertising regulations.  As noted above, this is a 2015 priority item for the Agency.
  2. TTB plans to issue an NPRM late in 2015 to explore whether to retain, revise or repeal the current standards of fill requirements for both wine and distilled spirits.
  3. TTB plans to issue a Final Rule requiring the electronic submission of many applications, including those for original and amended basic permits.
  4. TTB expects to issue an NPRM in April 2015 to amend its import and export regulations to make them compatible with ITDS.  This is a 2015 priority item.

Wine Projects

  1. TTB hopes to issue an NPRM on certain wine terms that were first raised to the industry in an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published by TTB in 2010.
  2. TTB plans an NPRM in July 2015 to propose authorizing additional treatments for use in winemaking.
  3. TTB expects to publish an NPRM late in 2015 to clarify the labeling of certain flavored wines.

Distilled Spirits Project

  1. TTB hopes to issue a supplemental NPRM late in 2015 to propose replacing the current four monthly forms filed by distilled spirits plant operators with two forms, thereby streamlining distillers’ reporting burdens.  TTB views this project as a 2015 priority.

Non-Beverage and Industrial Alcohol Projects

  1. TTB plans to issue an NPRM on the self-certification of non-beverage product formulas – a 2015 priority item – in July 2015.
  2. TTB believes it will finalize regulations to reclassify many specially denatured alcohol (SDA) formulas as completely denatured alcohol (CDA) and permit the use of more SDA formulas without the submission of an application to TTB.  This is another 2015 priority for the Agency.

Wine, Beer & Spirits Law 19th Annual National Conference
The Mayflower Renaissance Hotel
Washington, D.C.
September 18-19, 2014
Click here to register.
View the conference brochure.

McDermott Speakers
Marc E. Sorini, Partner, Program Co-chair
Arthur J. DeCelle, Counsel

Please join McDermott partner and program co-chair, Marc Sorini, at the Wine, Beer & Spirits Law 19th Annual National Conference on September 18-19, 2014.  This year’s program will bring direct access to experts in the alcohol beverage industry, including speakers from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Beam Suntory, BLDS, the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, Diago North America, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, E&J Gallo Winery, the Federal Trade Commission, Ippolito Christon & Co., New Belgium Brewing Company, New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, Department of Law and Public, Safety, Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Precision Economics, Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Washington State Liquor Control Board, and the Wine Institute, as well as speakers from many of the nation’s leading law firms.

Of particular note, Marc Sorini will make a  presentation titled, Federal Excise Tax Strategies and Tactics.  McDermott counsel Art DeCelle will be moderating a panel of representatives from the industry’s leading national trade associations to discuss “The Future of Federal Regulation of Alcohol.”

To view the full conference brochure, click here.  For more information and to register, please visit: http://cle.com/WashingtonDC.