Texan candidates say they support ethanol, but plans don't mention it

Beto O'Rourke, Julian Castro criticize Trump's small-refinery waivers

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, a Democratic presidential candidate, answers a question while campaigning April 7 at th
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic presidential candidate, answers a question while campaigning April 7 at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City. Despite being from the Big Oil state of Texas, O’Rourke says he supports ethanol and would be open to expanding the Renewable Fuel Standard. (KC McGinnis/Freelance)

ALTOONA — Democratic presidential hopefuls from the Big Oil state of Texas have been quick to criticize the Trump administration’s granting of small-refinery waivers, which are causing hardships for corn growers and ethanol producers.

What’s less clear is how the corn-based ethanol, which accounts for about 3 percent of Iowa’s gross domestic product, fits into their overall energy plans.

Iowa’s 43 operating ethanol plants in 2018 produced 4.35 billion gallons and accounted for 27 percent of the nation’s capacity, according to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. Ethanol plants used 1.5 billion bushels of corn — 58 percent of Iowa’s 2017 2.6-billion-bushel corn crop.

Iowa also is the nation’s leading biodiesel manufacturer, accounting for nearly 20 percent of total U.S. production at 365 million gallons from 11 facilities.

Although the Trump administration approved the year-round sale of E15, a goal of the renewable fuel industry, it also granted 31 of 37 waivers for refineries seeking to be exempted from complying with biofuel production requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro was quick to criticize President Donald Trump for granting the waivers as “another example of double-talk by this president who says that he was going to support efforts at ethanol and renewable fuels standards and instead is giving all of these exemptions.”

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke agreed that the Environmental Protection Agency’s waiver process has been “absolutely abused” by Trump — “both the letter and the spirit of that law and the intent to take more gasoline and carbon-based fuel off of the market and out of our air and replace it with what we’re growing right here in Iowa.”


“We should be rewarding this kind of leadership in Iowa, not punishing this kind of leadership,” O’Rourke said during taping of “Iowa Press,” which will air Aug. 30 to Sept. 1 on Iowa Public Television.

Castro went on to criticize the president broadly for how his trade policies have hurt farmers and asked Iowans “to step back for a second and take a look at the damage this president has caused to Iowa.”

“There are a whole bunch of farmers who have lost contracts that may never come back because this president’s ego was too big to be disciplined and marshal our allies against China on trade,” Castro said. “Instead, he’s engaged in an erratic, haphazard trade war.”

Likewise, O’Rourke said that the issue has to be talked about “in context with what else is happening to these farmers, which is a disastrous trade policy, markets that they have worked their entire lives to open up are now being closed to them and their kids, the next generation, by a president who has entered a trade war with no allies.”

Both the Texans say they would be open to expanding the Renewable Fuel Standard and the requirements for ethanol production.

“I would be very open to expanding it ... anything that allows us to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in this country as soon as possible,” O’Rourke said about the RFS.

“I believe in the RFS. I believe in investing in the renewable fuel industry overall,” Castro said last week during an interview at the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

However, like O’Rourke’s nearly 2,500-word energy plan, Castro’s issues page does not mention ethanol.


In contrast to the Texans, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, where the small-refinery exemptions also are an issue, said investing in renewables to raise farm incomes, create jobs and expand the rural safety net is part of her plan.

Opposing the small-refinery waiver is “an example of a big Midwestern issue I’ve been leading on with Sen. Chuck Grassley for a year now,” Klobuchar told reporters after speaking last week at the Iowa Federation of Labor convention. On ethanol and trade, Trump is treating farmers “like nothing but poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos.”

A day later, on a call with reporters, Klobuchar said that in her first 100 days in office, she would pass a law for year-round E15 sales and strengthen the Renewable Fuel Standard, reverse Trump’s wholesale granting of waivers and put on hold any waivers applied for but not approved.

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