Iowa will be Battleground Ethanol in the 2016 presidential race if a couple of seasoned political strategists have their way.
Their underlying message: Candidates who don’t support a federal renewable fuels rule have a history of losing races in corn-intense Iowa.
A coalition of Iowans led by Democrat Derek Eadon and Republican Eric Branstad intends to spend the next few months bringing presidential hopefuls up to speed on why they believe the Renewable Fuel Standard is crucial to the economy in Iowa and the nation. After that, they’ll make sure Iowa voters know which side each candidate has taken.
Their new nonprofit political organization, America’s Renewable Future, will make a multimillion-dollar push backed by some of Iowa’s top elected officials and influencers in the agriculture world, they said.
“We’re going to put in that tireless work that a political campaign does, except the RFS is our candidate,” Branstad told The Des Moines Register in an interview Wednesday.
A news conference to announce the campaign is set for 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Iowa Capitol rotunda.
What’s at issue: the future of a federal mandate specifying how much biofuel should be mixed into the country’s motor fuel supply. It has nothing to do with subsidies; it’s a matter of market access, advocates say. Ethanol and gasoline compete for a place in cars’ gas tanks. Ethanol is made primarily from corn, and biodiesel is made from soybeans and other feedstocks.
Without the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandate, the petroleum industry would lock the renewable fuels industry out of the market, supporters say. That would reduce consumer choice, drive up gas prices, depress corn prices, increase the country’s reliance on foreign oil, and increase carbon emissions that can harm the environment, they say.
But the oil and restaurant industries have pushed back hard, arguing the ethanol mandate drives up gas prices and food prices.
“The next president is going to have a lot of say over the RFS and what the EPA does,” said Branstad, who is one of Gov. Terry Branstad’s sons.
Eadon and Eric Branstad argued that candidates who support the RFS tend to do well in Iowa. Republicans Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, who both favored it, finished at the top of the Iowa caucuses in 2012, while those who opposed it didn’t fare as well, including Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.
In 2008, failed Republican presidential candidate John McCain called ethanol “a joke.” In contrast, Democrat Barack Obama backed the fuel standard, then carried Iowa in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. The only Iowa survey Obama filled out during the 2012 race was the Iowa Corngrowers’ survey, which gave him an A rating on his RFS answers, said Eadon, who was state director for Obama’s 2012 campaign.
Organizers of America’s Renewable Future said they realize that just because a candidate pledges support for the renewable fuel standard doesn’t mean he or she will remain loyal once elected. The Obama administration in late 2013 proposed lower volume requirements for biofuels; no final decision has been made.
“Just the fact that Obama has been talking about lowering the RFS has already hurt the Iowa economy,” Eadon said. Corn prices are lower now than when the Renewable Fuel Standard was passed in 2007.
A bipartisan team is co-chairing America’s Renewable Future: former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, a Democrat; former state Rep. Annette Sweeney, a Republican; and Bill Couser, president of Couser Cattle Company and co-founder of Lincolnway Energy.
The effort is being financed by the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and other partners, organizers said.