News & Ideas

The RFS and presidential politics; a winning ticket for 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, 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 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.”


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  Jeb Bush - Republican

Campaign website:

Ben Carson  Ben Carson - Republican

Campaign website:

Chris Christie  Chris Christie - Republican



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Hillary Clinton  Hillary Clinton - Democrat

Campaign website:

Ted Cruz  Ted Cruz - Republican

Campaign website:

Carly Fiorina  Carly Fiorina - Republican

Campaign website:

Mike Huckabee  Mike Huckabee - Republican

Campaign website:

John Kasich  John Kasich - Republican

Campaign website:

Martin O'Malley  Martin O’Malley - Democrat

Campaign website: 

Rand Paul  Rand Paul - Republican

Campaign website:

Marco Rubio  Marco Rubio - Republican

Campaign website:

Bernie Sanders  Bernie Sanders - Democrat

Campaign website:

Rick Santorum  Rick Santorum - Republican

Campaign website:

Donald Trump  Donald Trump - Republican

Campaign website:


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