* Program hopes to produce 1 bln gallons annually
* Noow is time to move forward on biofuel mandate-Vilsack
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, April 15 The Obama administration on
Monday renewed an interagency agreement that backs the
development of biofuels for the aviation industry and reiterated
its support for embattled federal renewable fuel targets.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Transportation
Secretary Ray LaHood signed a pact extending a program that has
worked with the private sector and rural communities to create
an alternative to fossil fuels for aviation.
"We want to re-affirm the importance of this particular
industry in this administration," Vilsack told reporters at an
industry conference in Washington.
The "Farm to Fly" program aims to support annual production
of 1 billion gallons of aviation biofuels by 2018.
The program will focus on evaluating various sources of
renewable alternatives to jet fuel, while also developing state
and local partnerships with private companies.
Federal support for biofuels has come under increased
scrutiny amid complaints from livestock producers and refiners
that the federal biofuels mandate has contributed to higher food
prices and could threaten gasoline supplies.
Last week, lawmakers in the House of Representatives
introduced legislation that would eliminate the corn-based
ethanol portion of the mandate, which requires increasing
amounts of renewable fuels to blended into U.S. gasoline and
The Obama administration's support for the mandate could
block attempts to curtail the targets, though, especially as
most lawmakers from major grain-producing states oppose any
limits on the mandate.
Vilsack encouraged the biofuel industry representatives to
remain "vigilant" in support of the mandate.
"There are industries and folks who are deeply concerned
about the progress that is being made, who want to show that
progress down," Vilsack said. "Now, is not the time to step
back, now is the time to continue moving forward."
Vilsack told reporters that the mandate was lowering, not
raising, gasoline prices for consumers and creating jobs in
Oil refiners, who want the mandate rescinded, say the
targets are approaching a point where compliance would require
the industry blend more ethanol into gasoline than can
physically be done at the 10 percent per gallon level.
This problem is referred to as the "blend wall".
Supporters of ethanol argue the "blend wall" could be easily
overcome if refiners drop their opposition to allowing gasoline
with 15 percent ethanol content, or E15.
The Environmental Protection Agency has approved use of E15
in cars built since 2001, which now account for about two-thirds
of U.S. passenger vehicles on the road, but gasoline station
operators and oil refiners have voiced concerns that higher
blends could hurt vehicle engines.