The biofuel industry went all-out in touting the benefits of the renewable fuel standard (RFS) to presidential candidates ahead of their caucuses Feb. 1 in Iowa. The verdict is still out on whether ethanol's clout has dissipated as the Republican leader, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, wants to phase out the RFS.
Iowa, one of the nation's leading corn-producing states, has been at the center of the corn-based 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 Assn., said a year ago, when the biofuel 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, nine out of 11 Republicans ended up receiving a passing grade. 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.
Political strategist Paul Tewes said “Big Oil is going to want to claim victory” over ethanol with Cruz's win in Iowa, "but their number-one guy moved closer to ethanol and further away from oil.”
In past years, presidential contenders typically had to voice support for 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," he added. "We think feeding and fueling the world is important.”
Tewes said never before has ethanol been more talked about. “This year put ethanol on the map, where candidates had to talk about (ethanol).” The end result was candidates either being completely in favor of ethanol or, if they weren't, moving toward it.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Dave Vander Griend, president of ICM, which engineered and constructed more than half of 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.