Will Ethanol Ride the GOP Wave?

Source: By DANIEL LOOKER, Agricukture.com • Posted: Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bruce Braley the Iowa Democrat who lost his bid to be a U.S. Senator Tuesday, famously told a group of lawyers in Texas that if Republicans gained control of the Senate, the next chair of the Judiciary committee would be “a farmer from Iowa,” Senator Chuck Grassley. The video clip of that comment, played often in attack ads, may have doomed his chances of winning against Iowa’s new Republican Senator-elect, Joni Ernst.

Maybe Braley should have pointed out that the next chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is likely to be Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who is a strong critic of the renewable fuel standard. Last year Inhofe called for “Repealing Obama’s Ethanol Mandate.”

So, does the shift in power in the Senate mean that corn-based ethanol will be weakened?

Those who lead the nation’s three leading ethanol groups don’t think so, but they’re hardly complacent, either.

“I don’t think it has that much impact at all,” Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association in Washington said of the election results Wednesday. “The mathematics of ethanol hasn’t changed.”

“They’ll still need 60 votes on the floor of the Senate to repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard,” he told Agriculture.com. That’s the number needed to break a filibuster that would block any legislation to repeal the RFS. The Democrats, who control the Senate until next year, don’t have 60 votes. And, even after Tuesday’s wave election, Republicans won’t have a 60-vote majority in 2015.

Dinneen points out that new senators from Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota are all supporters of ethanol, as are GOP veterans from the Midwest, Senators John Thune of South Dakota and Grassley from Iowa.

“These folks will come to town and support the Grassleys and John Thunes of the world,” Dinneen said.

Dinneen added that the first RFS passed in an energy bill in 2005 was under a Republican President, George W. Bush, and Republican Congress. The 2007 energy bill, which created a larger mandate for biofuels in its RFS, passed when Bush was still in office and after Democrats had taken control of the Senate.

Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, agrees that ethanol’s support is bipartisan.

“I’m going back to the principal that has been true for ethanol forever, that ethanol has been a bipartisan issue,” Jennings said Wednesday. “We expect that this remaining bipartisan support will keep big oil from reducing or eliminating the RFS.”

That doesn’t mean ethanol groups won’t be busy. Under Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, committees have held hearings that featured oil industry critics of the RFS and members from both parties backed bills to weaken the RFS that ultimately went nowhere.

Both Dinneen and Jennings expect Inhofe to hold hearings attacking the RFS.