116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, defending champion of the Iowa Republican caucuses, was in the state this past weekend. Of all the issues Iowa Democrats could criticize him on, they picked a bad one — ethanol.
Not too long ago, ethanol was a legitimate subject of debate among Democrats, with some prominent party members questioning the environmental benefits of corn-based automobile fuel. Then Donald Trump came along and changed the political calculus.
Under Trump’s flimsy support for the Renewable Fuel Standard — a Bush-era federal mandate that props up corporate agriculture, distorts the fuel market and incentivizes the degradation of Iowa’s natural resources — the policy somehow got wrapped up with the anti-Trump “resistance” movement. Perplexingly, the “resistance” now is aligned with Big Ag.
Cruz came to Central City to stump for U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, who recently announced her intention to seek a second term in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District. Democrats didn’t miss the opportunity to jabber about how much the farmers growing food nobody will ever eat.
The truth is that the benefits of ethanol have been overstated, while the drawbacks have been willfully ignored.
State Sen. Liz Mathis, the presumptive Democratic nominee in the Hinsons’ district, posted a photo on Twitter of herself with a local farmer.
“Right now, he’s concerned about Ted Cruz coming back to Iowa. Cruz supports [policies] that would decimate Iowa’s biofuel producers & farmers,” Mathis wrote.
The state party apparatus took part in the ethanol blame game too.
"Senator Ted Cruz actively works against Iowa’s proud biofuels industry. … Senator Grassley, Governor Kim Reynolds and Congresswoman Ashley Hinson are betraying Iowa farmers by inviting him to headline a fundraising event,” Iowa Democratic Party chairman Ross Wilburn said in a news release.
Politicians are going to politic. A substantive debate on the merits of the issue perhaps is too much to ask. But the truth is that the benefits of ethanol have been overstated, while the drawbacks — including excessive energy consumption and risky land use practices — have been willfully ignored.
Under Trump, federal environmental regulators granted waivers to oil refiners to forego biofuel blending. It was seen then as a setback for producers but in hindsight it may have been the biggest political gift they ever got — it unified the Democratic Party in support of ethanol.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who also was in Iowa this past weekend, used to oppose ethanol subsidies and mandates. When he voted in 2011 to end a related tax credit program, he rightly said it was a waste of taxpayer dollars and recognized the “negative impact on farmers and consumers.”
By 2020, Sanders and almost every other Democrat for president were firmly on the ethanol bandwagon. If Trump was against it, they were for it.
Trump and Cruz oppose ethanol for the wrong reasons — namely, to bolster the traditional petroleum industry. That doesn’t mean their opponents have to join them in the cynical race to the bottom.
Iowa Democrats seem to be stuck in a loop, parroting their 2017 talking points against the Trump administration. They know the orange man is bad, but they are struggling to make a positive case for what they actually support, rather than what they oppose.
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