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USDA secretary visits Le Roy gas station to promote money for biofuels

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (left) meets Sen. Tammy Duckworth (right) and Casey's Vice President of Fuels Nathaniel Doddridge at a Casey’s General Store in LeRoy, IL on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022.

LE ROY – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Illinois on Tuesday to announce a new investment of $100 million for biofuel infrastructure.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth met Vilsack at a Casey’s General Store in Le Roy. Duckworth pointed out a new, yellow handle at the Casey’s pump – where drivers can fill up their tanks with E85. 

Also known as flex fuel, E85 is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

Duckworth says renewable fuels like E85 are both locally grown and cheaper than gasoline.

“The higher that we can blend in more ethanol, the better it is for folks who are trying to fill up the gas tank. If you look at the numbers, unleaded is $3.85. But E85 is $2.80,” Duckworth said.

The USDA is offering $100 million to gas stations across the country for pump retrofits and other biofuel infrastructure projects.

The money for these grants comes from the Inflation Reduction Act. Duckworth voted yes on that bill in early August, and President Joe Biden signed it into law on Aug. 16.

Vilsack boasts climate benefits

Sen. Tammy Duckworth admires a pump offering biofuel at a Casey’s General Store in LeRoy.

Vilsack estimates that the money will allow a thousand gas stations across the country to start offering high blend ethanol fuels like E85. He says this will decrease carbon emissions.

“What people sometimes fail to realize about these biofuels is that they are a great clean energy opportunity and clean fuels,” Vilsack says.

A recent study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that federal incentives for corn-based ethanol have actually increased carbon emissions by converting grassland to corn fields.

Vilsack says that study did not account for other corn products manufactured at the same time. He maintains that biofuels are still good for the environment.

He estimates this USDA investment will support 300,000 to 400,000 jobs across the country related to ethanol production.

Illinois is the third largest producer of ethanol in the country. Iowa and Nebraska produce more gallons per year, according to a July report from the USDA.

The USDA is accepting applications for biofuel infrastructure projects until mid-November.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

Picture of Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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