United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued a memo on Friday directing the USDA to replace conventional vehicles with alternative fuel vehicles.
In addition, Perdue announced USDA will provide $100 million in grants this year for the agency's new higher blends infrastructure incentive program.
"USDA owns and operates one of the largest civilian fleets in the federal government and this move to a fleet that can use E85 or biodiesel will increase efficiencies and performance," according to a news release from USDA.
As the biofuels industry and agriculture waits to see how EPA will implement the small-refinery exemptions program following a recent court ruling, in a statement Perdue hinted the administration will be assuring at least 15 billion gallons of ethanol will be mandated in the Renewable Fuel Standard.
"President Trump is fighting for our corn and soybean growers and biofuel producers by finalizing year-round E15, ensuring that more than 15 billion gallons of ethanol and 2.43 billion gallons of biodiesel enters the market in 2020, and opening up new markets abroad," Perdue said.
When EPA announced a plan to account for exemptions going forward, the agency said it would assure that 15 billion gallons means 15 billion gallons.
A recent story from Bloomberg indicated the White House may be set to apply nationally a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver. Essentially, that would require EPA to cut back dramatically on the number of exemptions approved.
According to USDA, infrastructure funds will be available to assist transportation fueling and biodiesel distribution facilities with converting to higher ethanol and biodiesel blends. The funds will be used to help share costs on offering sales incentives for the installation of fuel pumps.
In addition, cost-share grants and other incentives will be made available for higher fuel ethanol/biodiesel blends such as E15 and B20.
USDA currently has 37,000 vehicles and replaces about 3,000 every year.
USDA estimates replacing current fleet vehicles with renewable fuels-capable vehicles has the potential to increase USDA's annual consumption of E15 by up to 9 million gallons, E85 by 10 million gallons, and biodiesel and renewable diesel blends by up to 3 million gallons.
"As availability of E15, E85, and biodiesel expands through the nation, USDA has the opportunity to reach these goals and have a significant impact," USDA said in a news release.
Growth Energy Chief Executive Officer Emily Skor said in a statement the USDA announcement will help industry efforts to expand higher biofuels blends.
"Through the original Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership grants and private fundraising, Growth Energy and 'Prime the Pump' have worked with 14 of the largest retailers to install more than 2,000 retail locations across the nation, expanding consumer access to Unleaded 88, fuel blended with 15% ethanol," she said.
"Secretary Perdue's announcement today helps propel higher biofuel blends into the next decade and 'Prime the Pump's' retail partners are ready to embrace this new wave of growth."
Renewable Fuels Association President and Chief Executive Officer Geoff Cooper said the USDA investment will be a boost for rural America.
"Leadership manifests itself in actions, not words," he said. "And today's announcement by Secretary Perdue is all about taking definitive action to expand the market for biofuels, grow demand for farm commodities, and offer lower-cost, cleaner fuel options to consumers."
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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