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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Oil Companies Criticized for Lack of Ethanol Pumps

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Major oil companies are facing more scrutiny from U.S. politicians who want to know if the firms restrict service stations from selling gasoline made mostly from ethanol and biodiesel blended motor fuel.
The use of E-85, which is gasoline mixed with 85 percent ethanol, and B-20, or 20 percent biodiesel blended fuel, is being pushed by the Bush administration to help stretch available motor fuel supplies and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil imports.
The problem is there are only 651 service stations out of 167,000 nationwide that sell the renewable fuels.
That's not enough for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, and the state's two U.S. senators — Democrats Richard Durbin and Barack Obama.
The politicians sent letters this week to the heads of six major oil companies to find out if they have any policies or advocate any practices that prohibit or discourage the construction, installation and operation of the ethanol and biodiesel pumps at service stations.
“It is critically important that gas stations provide consumers with the option to fill up with E-85 and B-20,'' the politicians said in letters to the heads of Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, oil refiner Valero Energy, the U.S. unit of BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell's Shell Oil Co. U.S. subsidiary.
The politicians said more of the renewable-fuel pumps are needed for the 6 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road that can run on E-85. In addition, current diesel engines can operate on B-20 biodiesel blends.
“Corporate policies could act as a barrier to the expansion of alternative fueling pumps at branded gasoline outlets,'' they said. “It is important that we work to identify and deconstruct any artificial market barriers that keep consumers from accessing the renewable fuels that reduce our dependence on oil.''
Illinois uses the most ethanol of any state and is the country's second biggest producer of the fuel additive, which is primarily made from corn in this country. But out of the 108 gas stations in the state that sell E-85, only three are operated by franchises branded by major oil companies.
U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman has said he will meet representatives of the major oil companies to discuss how they are making alternative fuels available.
“It should be our common goal that E-85 become a nationwide fueling option,'' Bodman said on Thursday in a speech to the Society of Automotive Engineers meeting in Detroit.
Oil companies have said one concern they have with selling E-85 and biodiesel is they can't guarantee their quality because they don't make the renewable fuels.

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