Cruz denies flip-flop on ethanol

Source: By Nick Gass and Alex Guillén, Politico • Posted: Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sen. Ted Cruz’s op-ed follows an audio release from America’s Renewable Future, a pro-ethanol group, in which he said that he would support a five-year phaseout of the Renewable Fuel Standard. | AP Photo

Ted Cruz on Wednesday denied that he has shifted his position on ethanol, while seeking to reassure Iowa voters that he is not opposed to the energy source that is closely tied to their state’s economy.

The fracas started on Wednesday when America’s Renewable Future, a bipartisan pro-ethanol group, commended the Texas senator for taking a “big step forward” in his views on the Renewable Fuel Standard, which helps the corn industry by mandating that ethanol be mixed into gasoline.

In complimenting Cruz, the group released audio from a Tuesday night campaign stop in which Cruz said he would phase out the mandate over a five-year period starting in 2017. Cruz — who had previously supported a total repeal of the program — started in early 2014 instead calling for a five-year phase-out of the RFS, which is slated to end in 2022 anyway.

“I do believe there should be a gradual phase-out because there have been investment-backed expectations,” Cruz told an audience member at the Sioux Center event.

“When I said we should phase it out, I said it should be a five-year phase-out,” he continued. “The phase-out from 2017 to 2022 is five years. I do believe there should be a gradual phase-out because there have been investment-backed expectations.”

Cruz then expanded on his position to criticize lobbyists who he said try to “snooker” Iowans into believing “that a government mandate is the only way for ethanol to survive.”

America’s Renewable Future, which had previously rated him one of the worst presidential candidates on the Renewable Fuel Standard, took those comments as a big shift for Cruz, who is currently leading the polls in Iowa.

“Farmers and rural communities across Iowa are going to be encouraged by Sen. Cruz’s remarks,” Eric Branstad, the state director of America’s Renewable Future and the son of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, said in a statement. “He is clearly listening to the people of Iowa and understands the importance of the Renewable Fuel Standard to America’s economy and energy independence, as he started the caucus process calling for immediate repeal. While not perfect, this is a big step forward by Sen. Cruz.”

While the group’s comments were complimentary, they provided fodder for Cruz’s rivals to call him out as a flip-flopper. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio seized on the opportunity, citing Cruz’s past support for ending the ethanol mandate by 2020, as it appeared in the Senate bill he introduced last March.

But Cruz and his campaign quickly denied that the Texas senator has shifted his views, while also seeking to not alienate Iowa voters.

He penned an op-ed for The Des Moines Register, published Wednesday afternoon, to make his case.

“By this point in the campaign, many readers will have seen the furious coordinated effort being waged by Democrats and big-money lobbyists, who are together spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to convince Iowans that I oppose ethanol,” Cruz wrote. “Their charges are utter nonsense.”

“My view on energy is simple: We should pursue an “all of the above” policy,” Cruz continued. “We should embrace all of the energy resources with which God has blessed America: oil and gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, and biofuels and ethanol. But Washington shouldn’t be picking winners and losers. That’s why my tax plan ends all energy subsidies and mandates.”

Cruz also voiced support for prodding EPA to approve more fuels with higher blends of ethanol for sale at gas stations. That move would allow ethanol “to command a much larger share of the energy market,” Cruz wrote in the Register.

Cruz press secretary Catherine Frazier on Wednesday afternoon dismissed Rubio’s assertion that Cruz had extended his proposed phase-out for the Renewable Fuel Standard to 2022 from 2020. She noted that Cruz would like to start the phase-out under the next president, in 2017, a timeline that naturally leads to a total phase-out in 2022.

“Cruz proposed a five-year phase out of the RFS mandate months ago,” she wrote in an email. “As president, starting in 2017, he would begin the phase out and it would end in 2022. That has always been the plan.”

Cruz has not said how he would convince Congress to pass such reform. Despite efforts from both sides of the aisle to reform parts of the RFS, particularly the ethanol mandates, the program has remained essentially unchanged since it was strengthened in 2007 in part because of strong support from corn-state lawmakers of both parties.

The campaign continued its attempt to correct the record late Wednesday afternoon, issuing a press release blasting “false claims from the ethanol lobby that presidential candidate Ted Cruz has shifted his position on the Renewable Fuel Standard mandate.”