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Published March 17, 2014, 09:55 AM

USDA wants ethanol available nationwide

Higher grade levels of ethanol need to be available outside the Midwest and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help make that possible, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

SANTA FE, N.M. — Higher grade levels of ethanol need to be available outside the Midwest and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help make that possible, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

“The key” is get more E15, E20, E30 and E85 available nationwide, Vilsack told the National Farmers Union in a question-and-answer session after a speech in Santa Fe, N.M.

He noted that most of the gas stations with pumps that consumers can use to buy the higher grades are in Midwestern states. “It can’t be centrally located in the Midwest,” he said. “It has to be all over.”

If higher grades of ethanol are available more broadly, consumers will come to support it, Vilsack said.

The petroleum industry succeeded in convincing Congress to forbid USDA from using the Rural Energy for America Program to install blender pumps, Vilsack said, but he pledged to use other USDA rural development programs such as the business and industry loan program to install them. To make the application process easier, he said, he will allow projects to aggregate blender pumps at a number of locations.

Vilsack also noted that USDA will promote ethanol exports.

The secretary repeated previous statements that he does not know what decision the Environmental Protection Agency will make on its proposal to reduce the volumetric requirements for biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Vilsack noted that when Congress created the Renewable Fuel Standard, there was an assumption that U.S. gasoline usage would continue to rise. But when EPA was making its proposal for this year’s volumetric requirements, it was “looking at” the fact that Americans were not using as much gasoline because the economy was not as strong and vehicles have become more efficient.

“We have a new reality,” Vilsack said, but he also noted that “things have tipped up a bit in terms of gasoline use.”

He said he has made sure EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is aware of the increase in gasoline use and EPA is also taking the thousands of comments it has received under advisement.

“But at the end of the day regardless of what happens with that standard, we’ve got to be more aggressive in this industry in terms of expanding more to get those higher blends,” he said.

Vilsack also said ethanol leaders need to reassure people that higher levels of ethanol in their fuel won’t endanger their vehicles or blow up their motors and “get the rest of the world more excited about renewable fuels” and “push back harder on food versus fuel.”

The secretary was unrelenting in his criticism of the oil industry for its lobbying to encourage Congress to cut back or repeal the RFS.

“We have looked for ways to partner with someone as powerful as Big Oil. I have chosen the Defense Department,” which he noted has battle ships that constantly need energy. USDA, he noted, is working with the Navy on its plans to buy blended fuel while researchers try to develop aviation fuel.

“We can’t let this industry wither under the attack of Big Oil,” Vilsack said. “We need to move forward regardless of what EPA does.”

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