The biofuels industry went all out in touting the benefits of the Renewable Fuels Standard in Iowa to presidential candidates ahead of their caucuses held Feb. 1. The verdict is still out whether ethanol’s clout has dissipated as the Republican winner, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, wanted to phase out the RFS.
RELATED: RFS still holds political importance
Iowa, one of the nation’s leading corn producers, has been at the center of the corn ethanol debate with pro-ethanol groups spending millions of dollars to try to persuade voters to support the use of corn for fuel.
Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said a year ago when the biofuels industry began the task of educating candidates on the importance of ethanol to the state of Iowa, only two Republicans running had widely supported ethanol. On Election Day, 9 out of 11 Republicans ended up receiving a passing grade. And even Cruz went from calling for the immediate repeal of the RFS to calling for the elimination of the blend wall and to end all oil and tax subsidies.
“Big oil is going to want to claim victory,” over ethanol with the Cruz win in Iowa, said Paul Tewes, Democratic political strategist. “But their No. 1 guy moved closer to ethanol and further away from oil.”
In past years, presidential contenders typically had to voice support of the RFS to woo potential voters. Shaw said once every four years is not too often to talk about agriculture and the rural economy. “If not the Iowa caucuses, it would only be after a massive flood or drought. We think feeding and fueling the world is important.”
Tewes said never before has ethanol been more talked about. “This year ethanol put on the map where candidates had to talk about [ethanol].” And the end result was either candidates moving completely in favor of ethanol or those who didn’t, moved towards it.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Dave Vander Griend, president of ICM which engineered and constructed over half the ethanol plants in Iowa and a major leader in the country, was able to spend some time educating Cruz, especially on many of the topics that were limiting the ethanol industry’s ability to grow. And soon that wisdom instilled in Cruz by Vander Griend became part of Cruz’s stump speeches around the state.
In the debate ahead of the caucus, Cruz said he is opposed to all government mandates, but supports ethanol. He actually said he would take on EPA’s blend wall that makes it illegal to sell mid-level blends. He said by doing so ethanol’s market share would actually increase by 60% without any mandates in the marketplace, words right out of Vander Griend’s insight provided in the weeks prior.
“The RFS is poised to be a very deciding factor in Iowa and swing states depending on who are the final nominees,” Shaw said of this fall’s presidential elections.
Iowa is one of seven swing states expected this fall. With the Republican primary split 12 different ways, it may be harder for someone to win the general election opposed to the RFS. The same can be said for other Midwestern swing states such as Wisconsin and Ohio.
Ethanol may not have “won” at the end of the day in the way many had envisioned. However, all the candidates learned about ethanol, the role the government currently plays in the market and the positive impact it can have on rural America.