Government

'No more Iowa nice': Ethanol policies could hurt Trump as farmers' frustration grows

Anger over biofuels could be problem for president's reelection effort

Steam rises from a stack last May outside the POET ethanol biorefinery in Gowrie, Iowa. Iowa renewable fuels industry leaders this past week expressed anger at how President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency is handling the Renewable Fuel Standard. The anger over the administration’s biofuels policy could have an impact on Trump’s reelection chances in Iowa. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)
Steam rises from a stack last May outside the POET ethanol biorefinery in Gowrie, Iowa. Iowa renewable fuels industry leaders this past week expressed anger at how President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency is handling the Renewable Fuel Standard. The anger over the administration’s biofuels policy could have an impact on Trump’s reelection chances in Iowa. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)

The warnings were pointed and the language forceful.

Iowa renewable fuels industry leaders and farmers are not happy with President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency. And that frustration may be costing the president significant support in a state he won handily three years ago.

So serious has the issue of the EPA’s handling of the Renewable Fuel Standard become that last week leaders from three key Iowa organizations — the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, the Iowa Biodiesel Board and the Iowa Corn Growers Association — held a joint news conference to express their latest displeasure.

And boy, did they express their displeasure.

Take this line, for example, from Iowa Corn Growers Association CEO Craig Floss, who was relaying something a farmer had told him: “No more Iowa nice. Now it’s Iowa pissed.”

And that wasn’t the only one.

Their frustration stems from a lack of consistency in the administration’s work to implement the federal ethanol mandate, and how that uncertainty and weakening of the law has contributed to plant closures in Iowa.

That is the very real and most serious impact.

But there also are political ramifications at play here, in a state Trump won by nearly 10 percentage points in 2016.

One farmer addressed exactly that. Kelly Nieuwenhuis, a corn and soybean farmer near Primghar in northwest Iowa who also sits on the Iowa Corn Promotion Board and is president of the Siouxland Energy board, called the EPA’s handling of the RFS “pretty disgusting.” And he said it could prove costly to Trump.

“My personal perspective is President Trump has lost a lot of support, pretty much everyone I talk to that’s involved in agriculture and the biofuels industry, really lost trust and are really frustrated,” Nieuwenhuis said.

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That’s a comment that cannot be overemphasized. For months the question has been whether Trump’s policies on trade and ethanol, which have contributed to lower commodity prices, would come home to roost. The answer remains subjective, but the comments from that news conference suggest the Trump reelection campaign team should be at least a little concerned.

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said there still is time for Trump to make a save here. Shaw said he views this as purely an EPA proposal, and if Trump nixes the proposal and insists on a previous pledge his staff made to Iowa renewable fuels leaders, then Trump will emerge from the episode largely unscathed.

But, Shaw said, if the president signs off on the EPA proposals, then it becomes, in Shaw’s words, “Trump policy,” and the president will own that.

And as we heard last week, there are many in Iowa agriculture who will not be pleased.

Buttigieg polling picking up

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s polling numbers have jumped in a few recent polls on the race in Iowa.

A new poll in Iowa last week, from Emerson College, showed Buttigieg in third place at 16 percent, behind front-runners Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren at 23 percent apiece.

That’s a significant jump for Buttigieg, who to this point has been fourth in most polling on the race behind Biden, Warren and Bernie Sanders. In the new Emerson poll, Buttigieg moved past Sanders, who was at 13 percent.

That poll comes on the heels of a CBS News poll in Iowa, published earlier this month, that showed Buttigieg at 14 percent in Iowa, double what he received in the previous CBS poll in late August/early September.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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