Ag Policy Blog

Ethanol and Politics 2020

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Ethanol is playing a role not only in the Iowa Senate race, but also in the presidential race as well. Brazilian media report U.S. officials told Brazilian leaders that removing tariffs on U.S. ethanol could help President Donald Trump in states such as Iowa. (DTN file photo)

Ethanol is undoubtedly playing a role in 2020 politics in Iowa, including the presidential race.

Getting the word "ethanol" into the next aid package also might become a tipping scale in the Iowa U.S. Senate race.

The airwaves in Iowa are filled with a constant barrage over the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Sen. Joni Ernst and Democratic candidate Theresa Greenfield. The Democratic-leaning Iowa Farmers Union joined the fray last week with radio and on-line ads questioning Ernst signing on to a letter with other Senate Republicans supporting aid for fossil-fuel companies, though Ernst had told IFU members in a forum that she did not support fossil-fuel companies getting relief money. Ernst and Greenfield are in a tight race with the last published poll last month giving Greenfield a slight edge.

Ernst argues she is the one who has pushed for policy changes in ethanol and even blocked a nominee to be deputy EPA administrator because of small-refinery exemptions. Greenfield has questioned why Ernst voted to confirm EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and also pointed to campaign donations from oil groups to Ernst.

Asked about aid to ethanol producers last week, Iowa's other senator, Sen. Chuck Grassley, said Ernst is lobbying the president to get ethanol specifically included in the aid bill. The ethanol industry last week was also calling for that kind of a specific provision as well.

Ethanol also is tied to international politics and the presidential race as well. The State Department is disputing a report that the U.S. ambassador to Brazil asked Brazilian leaders to lower tariffs on U.S. ethanol because it would help President Donald Trump's re-election in Iowa.

At least two Brazilian media reported unidentified sources in the Brazilian government had told them Ambassador Todd Chapman had talked up the importance of keeping President Donald Trump in office to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Chapaman also told Brazilian they could improve Trump's chances in Iowa if Brazil removed the 20% tariff on U.S. ethanol.

Brazil last year raised its tariff-free quota on ethanol to 750 million liters (198 million gallons), up from 600 million liters.

The New York Times and Washington Post quoted statements from the State Department on Friday stating the allegations that Chapman asked Brazilians to support a specific candidate are false. The State Department added the U.S. has been focused on reducing tariffs and will continue to do so.

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., wrote a letter to Chapman on Friday along with a subcommittee chairman asking Chapman about the Brazilian media reports.

New York Times:…

Washington Post:…

Chris Clayton can be reached at

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