Agriculture secretary defends Obama's ethanol record

Agriculture secretary defends Obama's ethanol record
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Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE is defending President Obama's support for the ethanol industry, saying a new plan to build more blender pumps around the country is proof the administration supports biofuels. 

The ethanol industry slammed new Environmental Protection Agency rules released Friday setting ethanol blending requirements for fuel producers below what is mandated in the law. EPA officials blamed weaker than expected ethanol demand for the low blending mandate. 

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The same day, the Department of Agriculture launched a $100 million program to build more blender pumps, which support fuel with a higher ethanol content, at service stations around the country. 

Vilsack told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Tuesday that the program will help increase demand for biofuels and give some relieve to corn growers — who contribute to most of the country's ethanol supply — hit by low commodity prices.

"There are 17 million flexible fuel vehicles on the road," Vilsack told the Star Tribune

Vilsack said renewable fuel groups should direct their frustration at oil producers, who are pushing lawmakers to change or repeal the federal ethanol blending mandate, not the Obama administration. 

The industry warned last week that consumers aren't buying vehicles that can use fuels with a higher ethanol blend, making it hard to put more ethanol into their gasoline supply. Vilsack said consumers with flexible fuel vehicles continue to buy high-ethanol fuel. 

He also beat back criticism from green groups questioning the environmental benefits of ethanol. Their concerns about ethanol pollution, Vilsack said, are based on "outdated studies."

“A gallon of ethanol competes with a gallon of oil in environmental impact,” he said.