WASHINGTON — Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on June 8 reviewed a number of steps taken by the U.S Department of Agriculture in response to a May 5 directive from President Obama to expedite biofuels provisions in Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008.

Mr. Obama has asked the U.S.D.A. to take a number of steps within 30 days, including:

o Providing loan guarantees and grants for biorefineries;

o Expediting funding to encourage biorefineries to replace the use of fossil fuels in plant operations;

o Expediting funding to encourage production of next-generation biofuels;

o Expanding the Rural Energy for America Program; and

o Providing guidance and support for collection, harvest, storage, and transportation in biomass conversion facilities.

Mr. Vilsack reviewed progress on each of the points, beginning with a $25 million loan guarantee application to retrofit a biodiesel refinery to produce second-generation biofuels. A second round of loan guarantee applications is currently under review. These involve second- and third-generation biofuel technologies to produce cellulosic ethanol and methane gas and electricity.

The Department will offer up to $20 million for financial assistance to biorefineries to replace fossil fuels used to operate the refineries. To encourage production of next-generation biofuels, the Department will provide payments to eligible agricultural producers to help ensure production of advanced biofuels expands.

For the Rural Energy for America Program, the U.S.D.A. is accepting applications for feasibility studies, loan guarantees and grants for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvement as well as applications for energy audits of agricultural producers and rural small business. The funds are intended to help generate guidance on renewable energy assistance and improved energy efficiency.

Finally, the Department is launching, for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, an initiative to provide compensation for the collection, harvest, storage and transportation of biomass intended to "to meet the country’s energy needs in a more sustainable manner," the Department said.

"The program will provide financial assistance for delivery of eligible biomass material to conversion facilities that use biomass for heat, power, bio-based products or biofuels," the Department said. "The U.S.D.A., through the Farm Service Agency, will provide matching payments for collecting, harvesting, storing and transporting eligible materials at a rate of one dollar for each dollar per dry ton paid by a qualified biomass conversion facility for the biomass. The matching payments will not exceed $45 per ton and material providers will be eligible for up to two years of payments."