A Long Shot for Renewables

Martin O'Malley Champions Green Energy as an Economic Engine

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley kicked off a long weekend of campaign stops Thursday with a visit to Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy, a 125-million-gallon ethanol plant just south of Council Bluffs, Iowa. (DTN file photo)

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (DTN) -- Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is mounting a long-shot challenge as a Democratic presidential candidate by making the economic case for using renewable energy to combat climate change.

O'Malley, 52, kicked off a long weekend of campaign stops Thursday with a visit to Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy, a 125-million-gallon ethanol plant just south of Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Brian Cahill, president and general manager of the ethanol plant, briefed O'Malley on ethanol production in Iowa and expressed concerns over EPA's plans for Renewable Fuel Standard volumes over the next three years. Cahill was one of roughly 250 people to testify about the RFS at a hearing last week in Kansas. Cahill explained to O'Malley some of the challenges facing the ethanol industry because of resistance by oil companies to build out the infrastructure needed for higher ethanol blends.

"The oil companies have not put in the blender pumps needed to blend E15 or E85 at higher levels," Cahill said. He added, "If you want to get to the bottom line, the oil companies didn't want to put in the infrastructure to sell it."

O'Malley was clearly new to the inner workings of ethanol production, but he nonetheless criticized EPA's plans to keep ethanol blend volumes below the 15-billion-gallon mandate in the 2007 energy law. "It sends tremors through the marketplace and sends signals to investors that this is an unstable future," O'Malley said. He added, "I think we should avoid, wherever possible, lowering those standards and instead create the market expectations that they will always go up."

The former Maryland governor and mayor of Baltimore is building his campaign around action on climate change. O'Malley wants 100% of the nation's electric power to come from renewable energy sources by 2050. Although he was visiting an ethanol plant today, it should be noted O'Malley was also a stone's throw away from Iowa's largest coal-fired power plant.

Still, O'Malley said he believes the country's best jobs opportunity is to convert more of the country's energy demands over to renewable sources. Thus, addressing climate change is the biggest business opportunity the country has seen in the past 100 years, he said.

"We have a huge business opportunity as a nation by squaring our shoulders to a clean, renewable energy future across the board," O'Malley said. "Ethanol and biofuels is a big, big part of that."

O'Malley credited Iowa's leadership in both biofuels and electricity from wind production. Iowa produces the second-highest volume of wind power, but is highest in wind power per-capita. O'Malley noted that as governor, he increased Maryland's renewable energy standard from 7% to 20% and saw jobs created in both wind and solar industries as a result.

There remain large environmental and moral reasons for the country to stem the risks that could come from warming global temperatures, O'Malley said. But Iowans or farmers who are skeptical of climate science should still realize the economic benefits of converting over to renewable power, O'Malley said.

"Even if we chose not to believe the science, even if we wanted to disregard the opinions of 98% of scientists, even if we wanted to whistle by the severe weather and mega-droughts we are seeing, if you look at the energy future from a business standpoint, it's a much better way to go," he said. "It's better for farmers, better for rural America and better for all of America. There are more jobs in it and healthier air in it."

With that, O'Malley said he opposes President Barack Obama's plan to approve drilling for oil in the Artic and he also opposes the Keystone XL pipeline that would cross the Plains states to link Canadian tar sands oil with Texas refineries.

The Iowa caucuses are in January, so O'Malley is a late entrant into the Democratic race against former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, another Democratic candidate. O'Malley acknowledged he has an underdog status, but he plans to campaign in every Iowa county.

"The history of the Iowa caucuses proves the inevitable front-runner is inevitable right up until caucus time and usually another alternative emerges," he said.

Presidential candidates from both parties are traipsing up and down Iowa this week leading up to Independence Day. Sanders has several campaign stops across the state. On the Republican side, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham were all in different Iowa towns on Thursday talking to conservative audiences.

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

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Chris Clayton