The RFS and presidential politics; a winning ticket for 2016?
Posted on 01/04/2016
This article was taken from the November-December issue of Ethanol Today magazine; it provides linked background information on each presidential candidate.
Taken from the November-December issue of Ethanol Today magazine.
The RFS and presidential politics; a winning ticket for 2016?
By Chuck Beck
The presidential election is still nearly a year away, however, the countdown is on to the February 1, 2016 Iowa Caucus and many folks within the renewable fuels industry are already paying close attention to the race for the White House. The focus on Iowa and the presidency also has people wondering what could happen with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
In recent presidential races, ethanol advocates worked to get candidates on record by direct questioning, or through surveys. However, with the popularity of cell phone cameras and recording devices, it’s now easier than ever to get the candidates on record. And with many of the candidates visiting Iowa on a daily basis, America’s Renewable Future, an Iowa-based non-profit, is chronicling what the candidates say on ethanol and the RFS.
America’s Renewable Future coordinator Eric Branstad says in an interview with DomesticFuel.com, that the effort kicked off earlier this year, and gained momentum at the first Iowa Ag Summit held last March, which featured most of the candidates and their stances on ethanol issues and was covered in person by over 300 members of the media.
“We were focused on agriculture for an entire day, and that was the story then for the whole next week. And it gave us the first chance to hear for the first time in many cases the presidential candidates talking and studying agriculture,” said Branstad.
While ethanol advocates think that national coverage of ethanol and agriculture is important, some political experts say the issue is magnified given Iowa’s position on the political calendar.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the Sabato’s Crystal Ball political newsletter that’s published by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, says he’s not surprised by the amount of coverage on the RFS, but he thinks as the election races heat up, that issue could be lost in the shuffle.
“There are powerful interests across the country who are clearly very interested in the RFS, but outside of states like Iowa I doubt it’s an issue with widespread relevance to the voting public. There are certain states where certain industries seem to have wide cultural and political relevance, like agriculture in Iowa and coal in West Virginia, but most of the bigger states are so diverse economically that big chunks of the populace don’t really identify with certain industries. Maybe automobiles in Michigan is another example,” Kondik said.
He points out that it’s unlikely that a position on the RFS would be the ultimate tie-breaker among candidates who make it to the ballot next November.
“I don’t think it’s a big national issue. Presidential elections are generally decided on big-picture issues of war and peace, as well as the state of the economy,” Kondik said.
Bill Couser, co-chair of America’s Renewable Future, said in an interview with Domesticfuel.com that the group’s effort may look regional, but their campaign provides candidates with a first-hand look at the industry and the faces behind it, which he says can help carry over to ethanol advocates and the candidates themselves when they campaign in other states.
“We’re basically farmers, we’re food producers, and we’re agricultural businessmen. We wanted to get the candidates out to our farms and ranches and take ‘em to the ethanol plants and bring them to central Iowa and showcase what Iowa really is. I think when then they go back they have a different understanding of who we are and why we do what we do,” Couser said.
Branstad notes that while some candidates are against the RFS, the ARF effort has helped personalize ethanol and the RFS.
“I think that pendulum has started to change, since they’ve been educated and they’ve had a chance to spend time in Iowa and talk to some of the state’s leaders,” Branstad said.
That personalization can do a lot for an issue like the RFS and for potential voters who are looking to support a candidate, says Couser.
“I think that one thing we’ve been able to get out of these candidates when they come to our hometowns, is ‘who are you really’? They talk about their wives and their kids. We want to know that in the Midwest, who you are really, because that’s where you came from.”
As the presidential race moves forward, America’s Renewable Future says they will keep on shadowing the candidates as they continue to vie for their political party’s nomination. Couser says there is one candidate in particular he would like to hear from:
“I’d really enjoy it if I could get Hillary Clinton here someday. To get her on our farms and ranches here in Iowa and actually show her corn production and how ethanol is made and show her what it has done for our schools and roads and how it’s important to our country.”
CANDIDATES ON THE RECORD
ACE has compiled information on each candidate’s position on ethanol, the RFS, and agriculture. All of this information is public, and can be found on the candidate’s website or in news publications, as linked throughout the article.
Jeb Bush - Republican
Campaign website: www.jeb2016.com
- The Sioux City Journal reports that during a July 2015 question and answer session, he showed support for the phase out of the RFS saying, "We need to phase that out over the long haul."
- Bush has noted the success of the RFS while on the campaign trail, saying in March 2015 "The law that passed in 2007 has worked for sure.” (Reuters)
- At the Iowa Ag Summit in March 2015, he said “I would suggest to you that ultimately, whether it’s ethanol or any other alternative fuel, renewable or otherwise, the markets ultimately are going to decide this. At some point we’ll see a reduction of the RFS need because ethanol will be such a valuable part of the energy piece of our country. Whether that’s 2022 or sometime in the future I don’t know.” (Yahoo! News)
- Bush’s campaign website emphasizes five key areas to grow domestic energy production: lift restrictions on exports of oil and natural gas, approve the Keystone Pipeline, reduce overregulation and defer to willing states and tribes.
Ben Carson - Republican
Campaign website: www.BenCarson.com
- In May 2015, the Des Moines Register reported that when asked if he supported the RFS, he replied, “I don’t particularly like the idea of government subsidies for anything because it interferes with the natural free market. Therefore I would probably be in favor of taking that $4 billion a year we spend on oil subsidies and using that in new fueling stations” for 30 percent ethanol blends.
- The Des Moines Register reports that he backtracked from that position during a Republican Debate in October 2015: “First of all, I was wrong about taking the oil subsidy. I have studied that issue in great detail and what I’ve concluded, the best policy is to get rid of all government subsidies and get the government out of our lives and let people rise and fall based on how good they are.”
- Carson was asked about market access and whether he would support the RFS through 2022 during a town hall meeting hosted by RFD-TV in August 2015, where he said “I'm not a big proponent of subsidies of any type, but I do believe in fairness. And the fact that, you know, access to fueling stations throughout the country is largely monopolized by the oil industry makes it very difficult for other types of fuels, regardless of their merits, to be able to play on a level field. I think that's an area that needs to be examined and worked on. But in general, I'm for getting rid of subsidies. Not acutely.”
- As of press time, his campaign website does not include his positions on domestic energy issues.
Chris Christie - Republican
Campaign website: www.ChrisChristie.com
- In August 2015, he said he supported the RFS during a question and answer session at the Iowa State Fair. He also criticized other candidates for not making clear their position on the fuel standard; “Here’s what I say to the other candidates: Make up your mind. Don’t say one thing in Iowa and say something different in New Hampshire and something different in South Carolina. You’ve got a position. Tell the people of the country what your position is.” (KCRG.com)
- According to E & E News, during a March 2015 interview at the Iowa Ag Summit, Christie said he would "absolutely" support the RFS as president and slammed the Obama administration's handling of the policy. "It's indicative of how the president doesn't understand that the executive branch has to execute. The fact is that the law requires the president to establish RFS. And he should."
- Christie believes in local control on agriculture issues. According to a Gannet report: "I think it's really important for us to remember that these solutions, especially on complex issues like this, are best handled at the local level. Washington, DC, can help provide the safety net, but they shouldn't be dictating terms. When they dictate terms, they invariably mess it up. There's no way a bureaucrat in a cubicle in Washington, DC, understands these issues better than the local farmer here in Iowa or Governor Terry Branstad." (dailyrecord.com)
- His campaign website indicates we are in the midst of a “North American Energy Renaissance.” The U.S needs to build the necessary infrastructure to get product to markets and ensure the smooth functioning of our energy markets, lift the ban on crude oil exports and allow markets to function as well as rationalize the country’s approach to regulation to make sure it is fair.”
Hillary Clinton - Democrat
Campaign website: www.HillaryClinton.com
- In May 2015, she wrote an op-ed for the Mason City Globe Gazette praising the RFS saying, “The Renewable Fuel Standard can continue to be a powerful tool to spur the development of advanced biofuels and expand the overall contribution that renewable fuels make to our national fuel supply. But we also can’t ignore significant changes to the energy landscape since the RFS was expanded in 2007. We have to get the RFS back on track in a way that provides investors with the certainty they need, protects consumers, improves access to E15, E85 and biodiesel blends, and effectively drives the development of cellulosic and other advanced biofuels.”
- In the same op-ed, she urged for continued programs through the USDA to help grow rural development, particularly on energy, saying “The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a successful history of partnering with farmers, rural small businesses, and rural co-ops in deploying renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions. Those programs should be expanded. The United States should also continue - supporting and improving – the Renewable Fuel Standard and other federal incentives that have been a success for Iowa and much of rural America.”
- Clinton urged for a strong RFS in an interview with KWWL-TV in July 2015, saying “I support it [RFS] as it is now, because I think it’s the basis for advanced biofuels research. We have airplanes now experimenting with flying on biofuels so this is exciting. I don’t want to do anything that stops the development.”
- Her campaign website touts a plan for the nation to continue to develop clean energy sources such as solar and wind power by declaring two major goals: The United States will have more than half a billion solar panels installed across the country by the end of her first term, and that the United States will generate enough clean renewable energy to power every home in America within ten years of her taking office.
Ted Cruz - Republican
Campaign website: www.TedCruz.org
- As reported by the Des Moines Register, Cruz declared opposition to the RFS during the Iowa Ag Summit in March 2015 saying: “I support biofuels. I think they have a major role in the energy market. But I don’t think Washington should be picking winners and losers. When it comes to energy, we should have an all of the above approach, but it should be driven by the market.”
- E & E News reports that during the Iowa Ag Summit Cruz said he believes that the federal government should not dictate biofuel requirements. E & E News wrote, “Cruz added that demand for ethanol would continue absent the RFS and that federal antitrust laws would ensure continued competition in the fuels marketplace.” Cruz acknowledged that his opinion isn’t likely to be popular in the Hawkeye State, saying “I recognize that this is a gathering of a lot of folks who the answer you’d like to give is, ‘I’m for the RFS, darn it.’ That’d be the easy thing to do.”
- His campaign website does not mention his stance on energy or agricultural issues, other than to say he is for cutting regulations to help energy exploration. The primary issues that the website focuses on are National Security, the Constitution, Life, Marriage and Family and Jobs and Opportunity.
Carly Fiorina - Republican
Campaign website: www.carlyforpresident.com
- In October 2015, she offered tepid praise for the RFS during a town hall meeting hosted by RFD TV: “One of the things that I have said, just so that everyone understands what I've said about renewables, is that government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers, it shouldn't be in the business of manipulating prices, and it shouldn't be in the business of guaranteeing or prohibiting access to markets. On the other hand, government has to be even handed. So I support the Renewable Fuel Standard, because renewables have to have the same chance as oils and gas, for example. But what I've said is, over time the government needs to get out of this role. It's not the Federal Government's role to pick winners and losers, and that's what the Federal Government does. Oil and gas was a winner for a long time until pressure was put on government to say, ‘You gotta level the playing field.’"
- In March 2015, the Des Moines Register reports that during a campaign appearance, she called for the RFS to be phased out by 2020: “We need to do it at the same time. We need to phase out sugar, oil and renewable fuels but do it at the same time so that we’re not disadvantaging any one state or industry.”
- Fiorina’s campaign website states that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is over-regulating domestic energy projects and output. She says as president, she will work to free up energy regulations to increase energy output.
Mike Huckabee - Republican
Campaign website: www.mikehuckabee.com
- The Washington Times reports that he touted his support for the RFS during an appearance at the Iowa State Fair in August 2015, where he said “Some people say, ‘Well that is not a very conservative position.’ Folks, let me tell you what’s not conservative position. A conservative position says that if the government tells people to do something and spend millions and millions of dollars and infrastructure to follow a new government mandate, and they do it, and then the same government comes back and pulls the rug out from under them and says, ‘Well, we are not going to do that anymore,’ you’ve just messed up a whole lot of people who made the investment because they trusted their government.”
- AgWeb.com reports that he made similar comments in support of the RFS during the Iowa Ag Summit in March 2015: America needs to “Fuel itself, feed itself and fight for itself. The RFS is just one bit of the component of the bigger picture of energy independence and energy security.”
- Huckabee’s campaign website notes that he supports an “all of the above” strategy: “We should explore and exploit all forms of domestically produced energy — oil, gas, wind, solar, bio-fuels, hydro-electric, nuclear, coal — anything and everything.”
John Kasich - Republican
Campaign website: www.johnkasich.com
- Kasich has been lukewarm about the RFS. Agri-Pulse reports that when he was questioned about the RFS and ethanol during a campaign stop in July 2015, he responded by saying, “I don't know much about the Renewable Fuel Standard and what all that means, but we have it in Ohio and I've never supported that [ethanol] subsidy. But I'm not there to shut it down and put a bunch of people out of work in my state.” He went on say he hopes the so-called “subsidy” fades away. “I'm not big on subsidies. In the meantime, I have people working there [in that industry] so let's try to work it all out. I don't think it's appropriate to continue it in the long term. But you have to have a reasonable solution.”
- He touts an “all of the above” approach when it comes to energy. His website states: “Keep energy affordable and reliable by pursuing all sources of energy: Diversifying our energy supply is the best strategy for economic growth. Government policies that encourage or discourage energy from any single source are economically counterproductive. Increase energy from all sources: More energy from oil and gas, nuclear, coal, alternatives and renewables and emerging technologies will provide the affordable, reliable energy our economy needs.”
- Kasich’s campaign website indicates that if elected, he will encourage research into new technologies to spur domestic energy: “Both the economy and environment benefit from technological breakthroughs. High-capacity, long-life batteries; fuel cells; the high-efficiency ‘smart’ electricity grid; clean coal and other technologies can help improve the environment, increase efficiency and conserve energy. Unreasonable barriers to their development should be identified and removed to help make them a reality.”
Martin O’Malley - Democrat
Campaign website: www.martinomalley.com
- He has been supportive of the renewable fuels industry, and wrote an op-ed in support of the RFS and ethanol for the Des Moines Register in May 2015. In it, he said “And finally, I would replace federal subsidies for fossil fuels with a long-term extension of production and investment tax credits. These credits directly benefit homeowners by making technologies like rooftop solar panels affordable, and have been critical to building strong biofuel and wind energy markets here in Iowa. We must also protect strong incentives like the Renewable Fuel Standard, which drive investments in clean energy and keep renewable fuels competitive.”
- In the op-ed, he also calls for transitioning the nation’s energy system into a cleaner, more efficient network: “I have called for creating a new Clean Energy Jobs Corps to partner with communities to build clean energy infrastructure, retrofit buildings to be more energy efficient, and expand our fields and forests so they can absorb more greenhouse gases. Next, we must make the critical investments needed to rebuild our energy infrastructure to be cleaner, more resilient, and more reliant on renewable fuels. I have proposed launching a Clean Energy Financing Authority to support such projects. Among other measures, the finance authority would support community wind and solar projects, working with rural electric cooperatives and others to help install them affordably.”
- O’Malley touts his support for a cleaner energy future on his campaign website. He made similar comments on his campaign’s Facebook page while touring Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy in July 2015: “We discussed the products and processes around refining ethanol, and the importance of becoming truly energy independent. The CEO said to me, ‘These are steady jobs, and for our area some of the best jobs. That's important for new generations.’ I agree. We have to accelerate a transition right now to renewable energy sources and create jobs for a renewable energy future.”
Rand Paul - Republican
Campaign website: www.RandPaul.com
- He has not been a fan of the RFS, according to an Agri-Pulse report from September 2015: “Paul seemed to be trying to make the best of his ‘no mandate’ stance when it comes to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which is a ‘litmus test’ for many Iowa farmers looking at presidential candidates. ‘I'm not for mandates to any sector of the economy,’ says Paul.”
- Paul sees market access as a pressing issue for the domestic ethanol industry and has co-sponsored legislation (with Iowa Senator Charles Grassley) that would help improve access to higher blends: “I didn't create the first regulation but I want to help you adhere to this regulation by giving more credits for alternative fuel and more incentives for more alternative fuel cars. The bill also makes it cheaper and easier to convert your car if you want to go to a mechanic and convert your car.” (Agri-Pulse)
- His legislation includes lifting the Reid vapor pressure limit on the year-round sale of E15 in conventional gasoline: “As a consequence, no gas station wants to have 15 percent all year and then 10 percent in the summer. We get rid of the vapor rule which I think would allow a market to develop for higher and higher ethanol.” (Agri-Pulse)
- Paul’s campaign website outlines some of the points his energy policy would focus on which includes, “loosening restrictive government regulations, curbing corporate subsidies and cutting excessive taxation.”
Marco Rubio - Republican
Campaign website: www.marcorubio.com
- When asked in a Farm Bureau questionnaire whether he supported the RFS and opposed the EPA’s proposed reduction of renewable fuel usage in the liquid fuel supply, he replied that “We must move towards market-based energy policies where all sources are self-sustainable without government mandates. However, many have made investments based on the RFS law, and I do not support pulling the rug out from underneath them.”
- The Des Moines Register reported in March 2015 that he would not be attending the Iowa Ag Summit, but had this to say about his position on the ethanol industry: “In the Senate, Rubio has voted against ethanol subsidies. He said Wednesday that he supports a mandate for renewable fuels like the Renewable Fuel Standard, although he believes it must be phased out over time. He said his positions are rooted in the experience of farmers in Florida, who he said have been harmed by unfair international trade. ‘If there’s ever an area where I’ve been willing to use government to assist an industry, it’s been agriculture because it’s an industry that faces unfair global competition and if we lose the industry you can’t get it back.’”
- Rubio has outlined his energy policy platform on his campaign website, which does not mention ethanol. He outlines three major components to his platform: “To achieve our full energy potential in the 21st century, I will follow three guiding principles: optimizing America’s resources, minimizing government bureaucracy, and maximizing private innovation.”
- In mid-November, Senator Rubio was asked about his stance on ag subsidies while meeting with the Des Moines Register; he said “I am in favor of supporting all American growers that are in unfair competition, versus other nations that have programs subsidizing their programs. I’m not going to do anything that hurts American growers from their ability to compete against foreign competition."
Bernie Sanders - Democrat
Campaign website: www.berniesanders.com
- Domesticfuel.com reports that he supported the RFS during a September 2015 appearance on an Iowa-based talk show saying, “I think as somebody who believes climate change is the greatest global crisis that we face, I think it’s absolutely imperative that we move away from fossil fuel, from oil, from coal, move to energy efficiency and move to sustainable energies. And Iowa, by the way, in general is doing a very good job, as is my home state of Vermont. Iowa is one of the leaders in the country in wind and biofuels. So, I support the Renewable Fuel Standard, I think we got to put more emphasis on cellulosic ethanol, which is a more efficient form of biofuel than we currently have.”
- Sanders noted some concerns about ethanol during a March 2015 interview with Iowa Public Television saying, “Well, that among other things it drives up food prices. You want people around the world to have enough food to eat. But I think bottom line here is that in terms of energy I think we are facing a moral imperative and that is the need to move away from fossil fuel and move to energy efficiency, where my state is doing a pretty good job, and to sustainable energy like wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.”
- In 2011, he voted to sunset VEETC, saying in a Senate press release, “I voted today to end the ethanol subsidy which would save taxpayers $3 billion for the remainder of this year. Subsidizing the ethanol industry not only is a great expenditure of taxpayer dollars, but it also has a negative impact on farmers and consumers in Vermont and around the world in terms of higher feed prices and higher prices for food.”
- Sander’s campaign website urges for a solution to climate change, noting that the nation should take an aggressive stance toward weatherizing buildings and accelerate technological progress in wind and solar power generation.
Rick Santorum - Republican
Campaign website: www.RickSantorum.com
- He backed ethanol and the RFS during his first run for president in 2012. The Des Moines Register reports that he continued that support during a campaign stop in May 2015, saying "We need to do risk management and stop picking winners and losers. We need the RFS to allow market access. To me, to provide that market access is a no-brainer."
- Santorum noted the economic benefit ethanol provides to rural communities, according to a report by the Des Moines Register: “One of the things that's helped rural small towns and farmers, particularly in Iowa, is the Renewable Fuel Standard. By using ethanol to create independent energy and stable prices, not only can the manufacturing industry thrive in America, it can geopolitically assist other countries.”
- After touring a biodiesel plant in October 2015, Santorum was critical of how the Obama Administration is handling the enforcement of the RFS, reports the Dubuque Telegraph Herald: "You have this really interesting dynamic where you have an administration that says that they are for preserving the environment and preserving the Amazon, yet if you look at their policies with respect to biodiesel, it's incentivizing production in places that are really, environmentally, really suspect. You're making it harder for our domestic manufacturers and producers to be competitive."
- His campaign website does not address his position on domestic energy, but the website does tout his support for cutting regulations for businesses.
Donald Trump - Republican
Campaign website: www.DonaldJTrump.com
- According to America’s Renewable Future, he spoke in favor of ethanol during a September 2015 appearance in Des Moines. He was asked “The federal Renewable Fuel Standard displaces Middle East oil with homegrown, domestic fuels. As president, will you support our national security with the Renewable Fuel Standard?” He answered, “Yes, and a very strong yes. There is no reason not to. We need it. We need every form we can get. Ethanol is terrific, especially with the new process. And I am totally in favor of ethanol 100-percent and I will support it.”
- In January 2015, before announcing his candidacy, Trump promoted the investment potential of farmland, according to the Des Moines Register, saying “I’m a big fan of farmland. I know it’s gone down a little bit…but I think it’s a great investment.”
- At press time, his campaign website does not list his positions on domestic energy.
- After touring the POET ethanol plant in Gowrie, Iowa in November 2015, Breitbart News reported Donald Trump’s comments in support of the RFS: “You know what? I went out to see some of the folks on the ethanol. Good stuff and great people, put a lot of people to work out here. I just want to thank them, they’re doing an amazing job.” According to the Breitbart News story, Trump was also asked what he thought about ethanol. Trump responded with, “I love it, I’m for it.”