Two Branstads vow to ‘educate’ presidential hopefuls on RFS

Source: By Jennifer Jacobs, Des Moines Register • Posted: Friday, January 23, 2015

Iowa leaders on Thursday threw down a warning to presidential candidates about the renewable fuel standard.

“We’re not going to prejudge any of the candidates from either party,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said at a news conference at the Iowa Capitol. “We want to educate them. We want them to support this because it’s important for Iowa. It’s important for America. It’s important for jobs.”

Asked about Republicans such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry who have called for getting rid of the fuel mandate, Branstad predicted they may come around.

“I’m not convinced that Gov. Perry can’t be educated on this issue. He’s a farmer from Texas, and I know he comes from an oil state, and he’s a friend of mine. He’s done great things for economic development in Texas. I think he’s got a chance to come here and learn,” Branstad said.

Other Republican potential presidential candidates have ruffled Iowa feathers, including Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who in 2013 called for repeal of the RFS, saying its “impossible mandates are driving up the costs of fuel, food and goods.”

Iowa advocates say the need for the mandate boils down to a matter of market access. Biofuels and gasoline compete for a place in cars’ gas tanks. Without the RFS, which specifies how much ethanol and biodiesel must be mixed into the country’s motor fuel supply, the petroleum industry would lock renewable fuels out of the market, they argue. The issue is important in Iowa, the nation’s leader in corn and soybean production, because ethanol is made primarily from corn, and biodiesel is made from soybeans and other feedstocks.

On Thursday, Branstad helped launch a new organization called America’s Renewable Future, led by his son Eric Branstad, a GOP political strategist, and Democratic strategist Derek Eadon, who was state director for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. They’re pulling together Democratic and Republican influencers who will use their clout in Iowa, home of the first-in-the-nation vote in the presidential nomination process, to secure a safe future for the federal mandate.

“Since that time, Iowa has built 17 new biorefineries, we’ve doubled ethanol production, we’ve tripled biodiesel production and we have now launched commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol in this state,” Branstad said.

Cattle feeder Bill Couser, one of the organization’s co-chairs, said at the news conference: “We’ve been challenged to work with both parties so that under no circumstance can any candidates from either party afford to ignore the benefits of the RFS for Iowa.”

Republicans such as Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney support the RFS. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal supports it, but thinks mandates should be ratcheted down as the industry grows.

Couser said: “There’s an old saying that a great team can play through a bad referee call. There have been many bad calls, and we’re that team. We’re going to play through those (calls), and we are going to come out as the winner.”

The Obama administration in late 2013 proposed lower volume requirements for biofuels; no final decision has been made.

Couser, who has scheduled a meeting in Washington, D.C., with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy about the fuel standard, said Iowans will be happy to show presidential candidates their plants, farms and ranches, as well as explain what sustainability and energy independence really mean.

He added: “Candidates, our doors are open. Our rules, our game.”

The co-chairs of America’s Renewable Future are former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, a Democrat; former state Rep. Annette Sweeney, a Republican; and Couser, president of Couser Cattle Co. and co-founder of Lincolnway Energy. The effort is being financed by the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and other partners, organizers said.