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Illinois leaders: Oil execs delaying E85 expansion?
Illinois Correspondent

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Approximately 6 million fuel-flexible vehicles (FFVs), capable of running on E85, are currently roaming America’s highways, though only about 1 percent of those vehicles are utilizing the corn-based fuel alternative, according to the Illinois Corn Growers Assoc. (ICGA).

Recently, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was joined by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in questioning oil company policies and practices that may slow the expansion of available E85 fueling sites.

According to ICGA Communications Director Mark Lambert, the three lawmakers recently sent a formal letter to executives of six of the nation’s largest oil companies seeking documentation of the corporation’s policies regarding expansion of alternative fueling of E85 and B20, a biodiesel blend made from soybeans.

ICGA president John Kuhfuss, a farmer from Mackinaw, said the number of fueling sites has not risen on pace with the recent growth of alternative fuels.

“The number of E85 stations in Illinois has grown from 20 to 108 in the last year, but given station interest and consumer demand this number should be higher, especially in Illinois where so much of the nation’s ethanol is produced,” Kuhfuss said. “We commend Gov. Blagojevich and Senators Durbin and Obama for not being content with the status quo.”

In the letter to Exxon Mobil, Conoco, Chevron, Valero Energy Corp., Shell Oil and BP America, the trio contends that E85 and B20 are already commercially available and competitively priced and all that stands in the way of an alternative fuel boom is the dearth of available fueling stations.

“Since Illinois is the nation’s leading ethanol user and the nation’s second-largest ethanol producer, we are particularly interested in expanding the availability of E85. We are concerned about the glaring lack of availability of E85 and B20 at gas stations branded by major oil companies,” the letter reads, in part. “Of the gas stations in Illinois that sell E85, only three are operated by franchises branded by major oil companies.”

Kuhfuss said that with recent commitments to expand their FFV lines from some major U.S. auto manufacturers and the passage of the Renewable Fuels Standard as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it’s time for oil companies to fall into line.

“During the early development of E85 fuel there was some hesitancy by car makers to produce (FFVs) until the fuel was available; fuel marketers said they wouldn’t provide pumps until there were cars to burn it. This cycle has been broken.

“General Motors and Ford Motor Company have committed to expanding production of FFV’s … it is time for oil companies to lead, follow, or at least get out of the way,” Kuhfuss said.

Blagojevich wrote to the Federal Trade Commission in January, beseeching the agency to investigate potentially illegal policies by major petroleum companies that discourage the sale of biofuels, and Obama has written to the Government Accountability Office asking them to examine progress being made in expanding consumer access to alternative fuels.

Durbin is currently leading a bipartisan effort to secure funding for E85 infrastructure and public awareness.

The ICGA has said it will lend its full support to assist efforts to “identify and deconstruct any artificial market barriers that keep consumers from accessing the renewable fuels that reduce our dependence on oil,” according to a press release dated April 6. Lambert said late last week he is unaware if representatives of the six oil companies have responded to the letter from Illinois officials.

This farm news was published in the April 19, 2006 issue of Farm World.