Ethanol Returns to Election

Trump Campaign Claims Clinton Would Eliminate the RFS

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Support for biofuels and the Renewable Fuels Standard has been an issue in the presidential race even though both candidates have claimed they back the RFS. (Courtesy photos)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Reflecting the importance rural votes may play in helping Donald Trump capture a swing state such as Iowa, the Republican nominee attacked Hillary Clinton on the issue of ethanol in a news release Tuesday.

The election is tightening in the final week of the campaign. Trump holds a narrow lead over Clinton in Iowa, but the polls are within the margin of error.

In announcing a list of 200 farmer leaders in Iowa who back Trump, the campaign stated that WikiLeaks showed the Democratic nominee's campaign wanted to reduce the Renewable Fuel Standard.

"We already know that Hillary Clinton wants to eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard, though she refuses to say it publicly," said Annette Sweeney, a former rural legislator and chair of the Iowa Agriculture for Trump Coalition. "Donald J. Trump will protect the Renewable Fuel Standard, eliminate the death tax that decimates family farms, and rein in the overzealous EPA."

The Clinton campaign responded by providing DTN with details on her "plan for a vibrant rural America." The plan calls for promoting clean energy for transportation fuels and the response pointed out that biofuels expansion over the past decade has created jobs, boosted farm income and added billions of investment in rural communities. The plan calls for "strengthening" the Renewable Fuels Standard "so that it drives the development of advanced cellulosic and other advanced biofuels, protects consumers, improves access for E15 and E85, and biodiesel blends, and provides investment certainty."

"As Hillary Clinton said repeatedly during the primary, she is committed to getting the RFS back on track and making sure the U.S. remains a leader in advanced biofuels," said Tyrone Gayle, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign. "While we have engaged a wide range of stakeholders and experts throughout the campaign on biofuels and other issues, we do not support replacing the RFS with a national low-carbon fuel standard."

Reuters reported in August that the Clinton campaign met with California officials to discuss the Renewable Fuel Standard and California's low-carbon fuel mandate. The Clinton campaign refuted the notion that her administration might look to change the RFS if she were elected.

Emails released in the WikiLeaks dump of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails show an array of contacts about the RFS. Some of the emails from ethanol supporters are emphasizing the importance of the RFS and expressing concern that the Environmental Protection Agency was backing a waiver proposed by the oil lobby. In June 2015, Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Biofuels Business Council, stressed that a good RFS proposal from EPA would help Democrats in rural America while a poor RFS proposal would play into the hands of the GOP.

"I want to avoid what seems like an impending big mistake and keep my guys in the country," Coleman stated to Podesta in an email.

In April 2015, Clinton policy adviser Jake Sullivan emailed Podesta stating he needed "an answer on ethanol and the RFS before she (Clinton) gets to Iowa." Sullivan noted he was a supporter of ethanol and the RFS, but would "look at how to make it maximally effective." Sullivan stated the options were status quo, reform the RFS or outright repeal.

"Supporting the RFS as it currently exists would certainly garner support in Midwest states and Iowa in particular. In our view, while many environmental, consumer, and aid groups would be mildly disappointed (as would the oil and gas industry), few would see it as a surprise or make it a significant campaign issue," Sullivan wrote.

An option for an outright repeal "would push further than any Democrats in the Senate, as well as most Republicans. Consumer groups would no doubt welcome this move, as would oil and gas companies and producing states, but the environmental community would likely be split."

That email has led to articles stating the Clinton campaign "mulled" repealing the RFS.

Podesta had suggested the campaign focus on reforming the RFS to further promote cellulosic ethanol and advanced biofuels while not criticizing corn-based ethanol production. Podesta noted in an April 2015 email that "EPA couldn't even get the program out the door in 2014."

Clinton chose to continue supporting the RFS and other renewable energy. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, an ardent supporter of the RFS, continues to campaign for Clinton and will be in Iowa just before Election Day.

While the Trump campaign has criticized Clinton's stance on the RFS, the head of Donald Trump's EPA transition team is Myron Ebell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Energy and Environment. Ebell also is a long-time opponent of the Renewable Fuel Standard and ethanol policies. In September 2013, Ebell joined a coalition of groups calling on Congress to abolish the RFS.

As the coalition stated in its letter to Congress, "The RFS is a clumsy and misguided command and control mechanism that requires a certain level of ethanol to be blended into the nation's transportation fuel supply. Gasoline has been required to contain 10% ethanol. The EPA plans to increase the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline by 50%. This is a horrifically bad idea. Congress has been working towards ending the counter-productive and costly RFS. Debt limit negotiations or other legislative vehicles moving through Congress at this time should not be used to expand regulatory burdens and impose additional costs on Americans."

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom contributed to this report.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

(AG/BAS)

Chris Clayton