News & Politics

In Iowa, 'Green' Democrats Dancing Around the Ethanol Issue

In Iowa, 'Green' Democrats Dancing Around the Ethanol Issue

There is no greater champion of the corn-based ethanol industry on the campaign trail than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Unless she happens to be in Washington, D.C., where she supports a “Green New Deal” that would outlaw all fuel-driven cars in 10 years.

Nothing illustrates the delicate political dance that most Democratic presidential hopefuls must perform when their radical political agenda comes smack up against midwestern common sense and political realities.

Subsidies for ethanol and other biofuels may be wasteful and expensive for the American consumer, but no presidential candidate has ever been successful when threatening to end them.

This is a battle between the activist base of the Democratic Party who don’t care much about rural America, and ordinary voters who look at many climate change proposals with a skeptical eye.


“There’s a disconnect between where we have seen leading Democratic contenders be in terms of support their corn ethanol and soy biodiesel and what we believe is the right thing to do for climate policy,” said Rose Garr, a campaign director at Mighty Earth, an environmental group headed by former Democratic California congressman Henry Waxman.

The group has been running an aggressive field campaign in Iowa. Activists are confronting candidates in front of video cameras, trying to convince them to abandon support for ethanol — a longtime litmus test for winning the battleground state of Iowa, which holds the first presidential nominating contest.

You can be sure those confrontations are mighty uncomfortable for the likes of Warren and Sanders, who is another aggressive campaigner for climate change.

But there are also candidates who have resorted to shameless pandering to farmers and the biofuels industry — at least in Iowa.

The president’s trade war with China eliminated a key buyer of U.S. ethanol, and the administration has handed oil refineries a record number of exemptions to the nation’s biofuel laws.

This could provide an opening for Democrats. Senators Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand, once foes of the biofuel mandate, have converted to ethanol boosters as they campaign in a field of more than 20 candidates for the 2020 nomination.

Like fellow senators Warren, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, who all have publicly supported ethanol, they also are sponsors of the Green New Deal. Former Vice President Joe Biden has supported ethanol but also has an environmental plan that calls for phasing out of fuel-powered cars.

Donald Trump took the very popular, unapologetic position of fully supporting ethanol mandates, which helped him immensely in the Midwest.

But those Democratic candidates who voice support for biofuels are being watched closely by the greenies:

But Scott Farber, a vice president at the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization, said Democratic candidates cannot simultaneously support the Green New Deal and the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, the 2005 federal law that requires ethanol and other biofuels to be blended the nation’s fuel pool.

Ethanol is largely produced from corn. Environmental activists say it is not as clean a fuel as they once thought because blending it with gasoline continues U.S. reliance on fossil fuels and burning it still produces carbon dioxide.

“We can no longer afford to be burning fossil fuels or corn ethanol when there are far more environmentally transformational alternatives that address the climate crisis,” Farber said.

I can’t wait for wind turbines sitting atop teeny, tiny cars to appear on the nation’s highways. That would be “transformational” indeed.

Iowans are used to this song and dance from politicians. Republicans who fought the federal mandates in Congress suddenly converted to ethanol boosters after they announced for president in 2016. But for Democrats in 2020, they need the environmental vote as much as they need the rural, white, working-class vote. That’s why they will soft-pedal support for ethanol — except when they’re crisscrossing Iowa.