Thursday, January 07, 2016

Ethanol lobby goes after Cruz, who might be first to win Iowa while opposing fuels standard

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's lead in polling for the Feb. 1 Iowa Republican presidential caucuses "represents an existential crisis," writes Reid Epstein of The Wall Street Journal: "If he proves a presidential candidate can win Iowa without the approval of the ethanol lobby—represented here by a group called America’s Renewable Future—the fear is no candidate will ever back their agenda again."

Epstein begins his story by noting, "Presidential candidates for decades have sought to curry favor with Iowa farmers by pledging allegiance to a local agriculture lobby that reaps the benefits of favorable federal laws." Cruz says the Renewable Fuels Standard, which "requires refineries to blend an increasing amount of biofuels, including the corn-based ethanol produced here, into the U.S. gasoline supply each year," should be phased out by 2022. In 2013 he sponsored a bill to end it immediately.

Anti-Cruz ad at a restaurant in Guthrie Center, Iowa, where
Cruz made a stop on Monday (N.Y. Times photo by Eric Thayer)
The ethanol lobby has mounted "a multi-million-dollar campaign to stop Mr. Cruz from becoming the first presidential candidate in either party to win the state while opposing the standard since it was enacted," Epstein notes. "America’s Renewable Future, which is now solely dedicated to attacking Mr. Cruz, is papering GOP caucus-goers’ homes with mail accusing the Texas senator of being beholden to his home-state oil industry, and it is airing countless television and radio ads urging Iowans to vote for anyone else."

Cruz's response? “The lobbyists are trying the best they can to snooker the people of Iowa and convince the people of Iowa that a government mandate is the only way for ethanol to survive,” he told Epstein. “I don’t think Iowa farmers want to be dependent on Washington.” In an op-ed for The Des Moines Register, Cruz criticized EPA's resistance to higher-ethanol blends and said he would reverse that policy, which would not require action by Congress, boosting the ethanol market.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul also opposes the ethanol law and like Cruz gets a bad rating on the America's Renewable Future "report card" but is not considered to have much chance of winning Iowa. "Cruz has plainly become the candidate to beat in the caucuses," report Jonathan Martin and Matt Flegenheimer of The New York Times. "He is even displaying a touch of swagger. He warns Iowans at every stop to expect tens of millions of dollars in ads attacking him to reach their TVs and mailboxes any day now."

ARF mailed the card to "hundreds of thousands of would-be Iowa caucus-goers," Epstein reports. "It is an unprecedented effort to persuade Iowans to back candidates who support the fuel standard, which never before has been opposed by a leading candidate." Meanwhile, a super PAC headed by the son of Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, is attacking Cruz in broadcast advertising.

Epstein writes, "The fact that it is necessary for ethanol backers to spend millions to persuade Iowans to vote for candidates who back their interests signals the weakness of agriculture’s political standing in the state. Voters interviewed at a series of political events across Iowa this week indicated they are far more likely to back a candidate based on their economic and foreign-policy positions than what they have to say about farming issues." (Read more)

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