The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that USDA agencies will use biodiesel and ethanol fuels in their fleet vehicles where practicable and reasonable in cost.

This new policy shows USDA's support for the National Energy Plan, as well as improving environmental air quality, the prosperity of the rural economy and the nation's energy independence.

"The energy challenges our nation faces today offers tremendous opportunities for agriculture," said Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman. "Agriculture can help us solve our energy problems through the production of domestic liquid fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel. Renewable energy is good for independence, good for farmers and good for the environment."

The department will request coordination in the following areas:

--All USDA diesel fuel storage tanks nationwide will be filled with blends of 20% (B20) or higher biodiesel fuel where practicable and reasonable in costs.

--All USDA-maintained gasoline fueling facilities will buy and use ethanol-blended fuels containing at least 10% domestically produced ethanol to the extent practicable, where the fuel is readily available, and reasonably priced, compared with unleaded gasoline.

--USDA's over 700 E-85 flex-fuel vehicles will use ethanol fuel where those vehicles operate in geographical areas that offer E-85 fueling stations.

--USDA agencies will purchase or lease alternative fuel vehicles, including E-85 flex-fuel vehicles, for geographic areas that offer alternative fueling.

The USDA's Henry A. Wallace Agricultural Research Center (Beltsville Center), in Beltsville, MD, has demonstrated the feasibility of soy-oil based biodiesel as a transportation and heating fuel and uses it in all 150 of its diesel vehicles-everything from tractors to snowplows over the past two years. In addition, the Beltsville Center will heat all of its buildings with biodiesel fuel next winter, including the 14-story National Agricultural Library, in Beltsville. The decision was made as a result of last winter's successful experiment with heating a dozen buildings.

Biodiesel is a cleaner burning alternative fuel that can be made by refining any natural oils, including vegetable oil, animal fat and spent cooking oil.

USDA has about 140 diesel fuel tanks on its properties nationwide. The tanks serve about 800 vehicles, including some boats. They also provide fuel for numerous chain saws, generators and other diesel-powered equipment. Over the past two years, the U.S. Forest Service has used biodiesel in 15 assorted bulldozers, road graders and trucks located at the Black Hills National Forest, in South Dakota.

Other recent conversions to biodiesel fuels have been announced by the Maryland cities of Greenbelt, Takoma Park and Ocean City.

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