WASHINGTON - To promote greater availability of higher blends of biofuels, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has directed the Department of Agriculture's Rural Development office to provide matching funds to help install 10,000 blender pumps and storage systems over the next five years. 

The financial assistance program, announced by Vilsack at an Oct. 21 appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, will use existing Rural Development programs and resources. 

During his speech, Vilsack stressed the goal of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) to produce 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022. That includes 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels. 

Today, the U.S. produces about 12 billion gallons of ethanol biofuels and about 800 million gallons of biodiesel, little of which is considered advanced biofuel, Vilsack said. 

"Over time, a key missing link in the effort to meet the RFS2 goal has been and will continue to be the lack of convenient locations to obtain higher blends of biofuels," Vilsack said. "Convenience store operators and marketers remain reluctant to incur the cost of new pumps and tanks. USDA and other federal departments can and should offer help." 

In addition, Vilsack pledged to expand biofuel use in the Department of Agriculture's own vehicle fleet. 

"We are committed to make E85 and other blends of biofuels, including biodiesel mixes, more conveniently located," he said. "We'll encourage more use of biofuels in our fleet of almost 43,000 vehicles. The impact can be significant." 

The Department of Agriculture reported 42,882 light, medium and heavy-duty vehicles in the motor vehicle inventory in FY 2009. The approximate total fuel consumption was 19.5 million gallons. The miles traveled by the USDA motor vehicle fleet totaled approximately 342.5 million, with approximately $41 million in fuel costs reported. 

"We hope to provide the model for other federal departments with large vehicle fleets," Vilsack said. 

Vilsack also called for Congress to reinstate the biodiesel production tax credit and provide a "fiscally responsible" short-term extension of the volumetric ethanol excise tax credit. 

"At the same time," he added, "we need to begin to think about reforms to the ethanol credit program to make it more efficient and effective at addressing the full range of challenges we face in meeting our goals for traditional and next-generation biofuels."