Biofuels industry speaks out following results of Iowa caucus

By Erin Voegele | February 02, 2016

On Feb. 1, the Iowa caucus officially kicked off the primary election season. Each party’s presidential nominee will be chosen mid-year, with the presidential election held in November. Twelve of the 14 candidates who participated in the Iowa caucus are supportive of the renewable fuel standard (RFS). Some have also gone on the record as being supportive of biobased and renewable energy.

Ted Cruz was the republican winner of the Iowa caucus, with 27.6 percent of the vote, followed by Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio with a respective 24.3 percent and 23.1 percent of the vote. Additional republican candidates participating in the Iowa event included Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, and Jim Gilmore. Huckabee has since dropped out of the race.

On the democratic side, Hillary Clinton won by less than 0.5 percent with 49.9 percent of the vote. Bernie Sanders achieved 49.6 percent of the vote, with Martin O’Malley attracting only 0.6 percent. O’Malley has since suspended his presidential campaign.

America’s Renewable Future has given both democratic candidates favorable ratings regarding their positions on the RFS, noting both Clinton and Sanders have demonstrated consistent support for the RFS and Iowa farmers.

On her website under the issue of climate change and energy, Clinton doesn’t specifically mention the RFS, ethanol or bioenergy. However, she does indicate support for renewable energy, clean energy, and energy efficiency.

Sanders specifically addresses biomass and biofuels on his campaign website. Under the heading of improving the rural economy, information on the website notes that Sanders has successfully fought for several rural economic development initiatives, including large scale biomass-fired electric plants. His website also includes a section on renewable energy investment, noting “Sanders supports major investments in wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and other sources of renewable energy.” Regarding biofuels, the website notes “biofuels like ethanol have been an economic lifeline to rural and farm communities in Iowa and throughout the Midwest, supporting over 850,000 workers, all while keeping our energy dollars here at home instead of going into the pockets of oil barons in the Middle East and Russia.” It goes on to say “Sanders strongly supports the renewable fuels standard that is helping us move beyond oil,” and notes substantially increasing our investments in renewable energy will be a major priority in a Sanders administration.

On the republican side, America’s Renewable Future has given Bush, Carson, Christie, Fiorina, Kasich, Rubio, Santorum, and Trump favorable ratings on the RFS, noting these candidates have demonstrated consistent support for the RFS and Iowa farmers. Cruz and Paul were given poor ratings on the RFS, noting these candidates stood against Iowa farmers and the RFS.

On his website, Cruz notes he supports a five-year phase out of the RFS. He also notes he “would instruct the Justice Department to vigorously enforce antitrust laws” and “eliminate EPA regulations that impose a hard wall against the general sale of mid-level ethanol blends, such as E25.” The website goes on to say “his argument is that ethanol manufacturers would more likely be better off without government interference than with the mandates and regulations.” Cruz has also gone on the record opposing all mandates and all subsidies, including those for oil. 

Trump does not specifically address ethanol, the RFS or renewable energy under the section of his website where he outlines his position on several political issues. He has, however, been quoted as being supportive of the RFS during several campaign stops.

Rubio also doesn’t specifically address ethanol, the RFS or renewable energy under the issues portion of his website. However, he has gone on the record during recent campaign stops showing support for maintaining the RFS through its current expiration date in 2022.

Representatives of the ethanol industry issued a variety of responses to the outcome of the Iowa caucuses, particularly in regard to Cruz’s win.

On Feb. 2, Fuels America held a media call featuring Tom Buis, co-chair of Growth Energy; Paul Tewes, a political strategist; and Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

Buis opened the call by noting that while someone who is not a supporter of the RFS won the Iowa republican caucus, the fact is that more than 80 percent of the votes cast during the event went to candidates that are supportive of the program. He also pointed out that although Cruz and Paul are not considered supportive of the RFS, both candidates evolved their positions on the program during the campaign leading up to the caucus. Buis also noted that while Cruz is not supportive of the RFS, he is supportive of knocking down the so-called blend wall and ending oil and gas subsidies.

Tewes noted ethanol was put on the map during the campaign leading up to the Iowa caucus. “Big oil is going to want to claim victory, and if they do they’ve been inhaling too much of their own noxious fumes,” he said. “Their No. 1 guy moved closer to ethanol and moved further away from oil and the billions of subsidies they’ve had for 103 years.”

Shaw stressed that the fact that 12 out of the 14 candidates expressing support for the RFS is a huge win for the ethanol industry. He also spoke about educational efforts leading up to the caucus, noting the importance of helping the candidates understand the reality of how much support oil gets from the government and how the RFS helps crack through that monopoly.

Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, also issued a statement in response to the Cruz’s win. “The narrative coming out after last night’s Iowa caucus that the domestic ethanol industry is somehow on the ropes is false,” said Dinneen. “Many people seem to have forgotten that, in the run-up to last night’s caucus vote, though Sen. Cruz stated he was opposed to the RFS he also expressed support for ethanol as a fuel. In fact the senator has discussed the need to provide American consumers better access to ethanol fuels like E25 or E30, stating that they could prove to be quite popular with American consumers who are increasingly concerned about fuel economy. The senator also called ethanol an effective additive because it increases octane and decreases harmful tailpipe emissions. That doesn’t sound like someone to me who is writing off the domestic ethanol industry. That sounds to me like someone who is just being true to his no-mandates of any kind philosophy.”

“Moreover, pundits anxious to write off ethanol’s potential currency in Iowa should note that more than 85 percent of the votes cast in Iowa last night were in support of candidates who continue to champion the RFS,” Dinneen continued.

Eric Branstad, state director of America’s Renewable Future, noted that more Iowans voted for pro-RFS candidates this year than in during the 2012 caucus. “We’re proud of the work we’ve done in educating candidates on the benefits of the RFS and that the vast majority of them were good on the issue or moved to be good,” added Branstad. “Considering that when we started only two Republicans were known supporters of the RFS and we ended with nine out of 11 in the pro column and 12 candidates out of the 14 total. We’re incredibly proud of the success we’ve had with candidates recognizing the benefits to our economy, national security, and environment and it’s something that will be key in the general election.”