Donald Trump Turns to Ethanol to Fuel Fight With Ted Cruz

Source: By AMY HARDER and BETH REINHARD, WSJ • Posted: Friday, January 22, 2016

Donald Trump supporters smile as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorses him during a rally at the Iowa State University on  Tuesday.
Associated Press

Donald Trump, who is battling Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), for the top spot in in corn-rich Iowa, is seeking to draw a contrast between the two candidates by catering to the state’s corn ethanol industry more than any other top GOP candidate.

“He’s really spent time in Iowa, talking to Iowans and talking good policy on this issue,” said Eric Branstad, son of Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and state director of America’s Renewable Future, a group calling on all presidential candidates to support a government mandate requiring ethanol be blended into gasoline.

Mr. Trump has met with the group three times since April, toured an ethanol plant late last year, and had his staff stay in touch with America’s Renewable Future on a weekly basis, according to Mr. Branstad.

“I am there with you 100%,” Mr. Trump told a crowd of hundreds of Iowans whose livelihoods depend on the ethanol industry at a summit in Altoona, Iowa, on Tuesday. “You’re going to get a really fair shake from me.”

Corn has long been king in Iowa, the nation’s top corn-producing state, implanting in Iowa voters a sentiment that every candidate must cheer Washington’s backing for ethanol. Since 2011, though, that universal backing has been eroding.

Congress decided at the end of 2011 not to renew a tax credit that cost the government $6 billion a year. Critics of the government’s ethanol policy then set their targets on the ethanol mandate, which requires refineries to blend an increasing amount of biofuels into the U.S. gasoline supply each year.

At the ethanol summit Tuesday, Mr. Trump also read a prepared statement opposing Congress “changing any part of the RFS,” or Renewable Fuel Standard, the mandate’s formal name.

This year’s presidential election is testing the corn industry’s political power more than ever, with Republican candidates seeking to find a middle ground between repealing the mandate outright, a move supported by the party’s conservative base, and phasing it out.

Mr. Cruz, who is leading in the latest polling ahead of Iowa’s caucus, has sought a balance between backing a powerful political constituency and eschewing “big-government” policies the conservative base abhors.

Mr. Cruz has faced criticism from the ethanol industry primarily through America’s Renewable Future, the group Mr. Branstad works for. Mr. Branstad’s father, the governor, on Tuesday urged Iowa Republicans not to vote for Mr. Cruz because of his lack of support for the ethanol mandate.

America’s Renewable Future released a report card late last year grading the presidential candidates on their support of the fuel mandate. All three Democratic candidates and all Republican candidates except for Mr. Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul(R., Ky.), who opposes the mandate, received a good rating.

Mr. Paul has instead pushed proposals aimed at allowing greater access into the gasoline market for ethanol companies, ideas similar to those Mr. Cruz articulated in a recent op-ed he penned for the Des Moines Register, which drew more criticism from Mr. Branstad’s group.

“He’s never even wanted to utter the word ‘ethanol’ for the last three and a half years until the last few weeks,” Mr. Branstad said of Mr. Cruz.

Mr. Cruz’s position on the issue has shifted over the years. He initially supported legislation repealing the mandate right away, as a co-sponsor of a bill in 2013. In 2014, Mr. Cruz introduced a separate bill that would overhaul several energy policies, including phasing out the mandate over five years and eliminating it by 2018.

While on the campaign trail over the past year, Mr. Cruz’s campaign has said he supports phasing out the fuel mandate and ending it by 2022, there years later than the bill he sponsored two years ago.