Clinton campaign defends position on ethanol mandate

Source: By Christopher Doering, Des Moines Register • Posted: Friday, August 5, 2016

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton’s campaign fought back Thursday against a report the Democratic presidential nominee might make significant changes to the mandate requiring ethanol be blended into the fuel supply.

Clinton’s campaign confirmed Thursday that an aide with her office met with a California official recently to discuss the federal ethanol mandate known as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the state’s low-carbon fuel standard, among other topics. Reuters reported the meeting was a sign that Clinton, if elected, would look to adjust the RFS.

But Tyrone Gayle, a Clinton spokesperson, said Clinton does not support replacing the existing RFS with one that requires lower-carbon fuels.

“As Hillary Clinton said repeatedly during the primary, she is committed to getting the RFS back on track and making sure the US remains a leader in advanced biofuels,” said Gayle. “While we have engaged a wide range of stakeholders and experts throughout the campaign on biofuels and other issues, we do not support replacing the RFS with a national low-carbon fuel standard.”

As part of her plan to right the RFS, Clinton has said the mandate needs to provide certainty for investors, improve consumer access to fuels with higher ethanol blends and spur the development of cellulosic and other advanced biofuels.

A spokesman with the Agriculture Department said Secretary Tom Vilsackspeaking on his own behalf, has talked with Clinton and her advisers about the importance of biofuels and maintaining the RFS. He said when the former Iowa governor read reports that the campaign was listening to opinions on replacing the RFS with a national low-carbon fuel standard, Vilsack reached out to his contacts within her organization to express some concern.

California’s low-carbon standard, enacted in 2007, requires a 10 percent reduction in the carbon content of fuels sold in the state by 2020.

The plan upset corn-ethanol producers in the Midwest because it counts all the emissions required to produce and deliver the biofuel to California consumers. They also said it unfairly overestimated the environmental impact that occurs when land is used to grow corn for ethanol and soybeans for biodiesel. As a result, producers in Iowa and other states argued they were placed at a disadvantage to the renewable fuel produced in and around California, largely shutting them out of the state’s market.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa farmer and member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, touted the benefits of the existing RFS, including its benefits for clean air.

“A low carbon fuel standard … is an invention of those who belittle the carbon benefit of traditional corn ethanol, using a scientifically questionable rationale,” Grassley said Wednesday. “Any proposal that opens up or undermines the RFS and results in less ethanol, biodiesel and cellulosic biofuels is a non-starter with those of us who understand the value of renewable fuels and the potential for industry innovation to continue indefinitely.”

The 2007 RFS law requiring increasing amounts of alternative fuels be blended into cars, trucks and other vehicles has been widely popular in Iowa, benefiting farmers and ethanol producers. A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released in March found 71 percent of Iowans favored the mandate.

Iowa is the country’s top ethanol producer, with much of its corn used to make the renewable fuel.

Chad Hart, an Iowa State University agricultural economist, downplayed the meeting with the California official. He said Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump should be reaching out to those involved in issues such as the RFS that Congress could look at during their administration and prepare for any changes they could consider making.

“It makes sense that she and members of her camp would be talking to everybody about potential policies out there,” Hart said. “In the end it’s not going to be up to a President Clinton or President Trump about what happens with the RFS. That’s more in the hands of Congress (to consider) any potential changes to the RFS,” such as a low-carbon standard.

America’s Renewable Future, a bipartisan political group backed by top Iowa elected officials and people in agriculture and the ethanol industry, has given both Clinton and Trump high marks for their positions on ethanol and the RFS.

“We feel very good about the support of both candidates for the RFS,” said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, a member of America’s Renewable Future. “I think that Iowa is going to be a swing state and so I think we’ll see Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton in Iowa often over the next couple of months, and hopefully this is another chance for this topic to come back up in Iowa in front of the voters.”