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Iowa Latest Signal to Washington That RFS Should Be Repealed

Sponsored and Written by the American Council for Capital Formation

An ethanol biomass refinery plant.
An ethanol biomass refinery plant. (Getty Images)

Iowans made history at the Republican caucuses in early February, defying conventional political wisdom and choosing a candidate opposed to the federal corn ethanol mandate. In fact, Iowa showed at the ballot box what the rest of America already knows: The corn ethanol mandate is losing its political clout as more voters realize the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has failed. With corn ethanol’s power waning in the biggest corn producing state, Washington should now have the ability to finally take on – and end – the decade-old RFS.  

The writing was on the wall months before Iowans headed to the caucuses. In an October 2015 article , “Got Corn? Ethanol Is No Longer King In Iowa Among Candidates,” NPR reported, in “this election cycle, ethanol is not the campaign force it once was.” And according to a Los Angeles Times
article , “Iowa voters have given up on ethanol; presidential candidates are following suit.” The LA Times reporting would later prove spot on, noting “as the 2016 White House hopefuls traverse the state, they are seeing that Iowans have grown strikingly ambivalent.”  

What’s more, polling by the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) ahead of the caucuses confirmed the media reports: Iowans were not making ethanol a voting priority.  

Facing this surprising reality, the corn ethanol lobby unleashed an all-out campaign to make corn ethanol a prominent issue once again. Republican Governor Terry Branstad, who has always stayed neutral in the Iowa caucuses, lashed out at candidates for opposing the corn ethanol mandate. Further, the corn lobby aggressively targeted candidates who didn’t toe the line, launching a media blitz including radio and television ads, using robo-calls, and even following one candidate around in an RV.  

But this effort failed, as the election results confirmed the efforts didn’t resonate with Iowa voters.  

The results in Iowa are simply the last domino to fall in an emerging national consensus against the RFS. Over the past several months, ACCF has called attention to the diverse groups that now oppose the mandate, including environmental and anti-hunger groups, as well as free market think tanks. The reason is simple: The RFS mandate has failed to live up to the promises of politicians from a decade ago. Meanwhile, the Center for Regulatory Solutions released polling last year that showed a consistent, growing opposition across the country to ethanol mandates.  

When the RFS was signed into law in 2005, the goal was to decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil, improve our air quality, and save consumers at the pump by mixing biofuels, such as corn-based ethanol, into the nation’s fuel supply. But the evidence shows the RFS has failed to achieve its promised benefits.  

Over the past decade, the United States has unleashed an energy revolution, causing foreign oil and natural gas imports to tumble to their lowest level in decades. In fact, between 2008 and 2014, net oil imports dropped by over 6 million barrels a day, largely due to a dramatic increase in domestic oil production, while ethanol production increased by a mere 328,500 barrels a day over the same period. Such small increases have had marginal – if any – effect on making America more energy secure.  

What’s more, the ethanol mandate is actually harming – not helping – consumers and the environment. Hard-working, middle class families who are struggling to make ends meet are now facing rising food prices at the grocery store as government ethanol mandates divert 40 percent of the nation’s corn crop to our fuel tanks. That increases the price of a surprising variety of foods , including yogurt, soft drinks, condiments, and potato chips, all of which contain corn or corn byproducts.  

And it’s not just processed foods that are becoming more expensive as a result of this federal ethanol dilemma – corn is the primary ingredient in livestock feed, and one third of our nation’s corn supply is used to feed cows, chickens, pigs, and other farm animals, directly increasing the price of meat.  

American families are feeling ethanol’s harm at the pump too. While gas prices have fallen dramatically recently, drivers are still harmed as ethanol is less powerful than regular gasoline, delivering fewer miles per gallon. In fact, between 2007 and 2014, motorists spent $83 billion more on fuel than they would have with non-ethanol blended gasoline.  

Worse, many experts agree that corn ethanol actually increases greenhouse gas and smog-forming emissions compared to conventional gasoline, causing environmentalists like Al Gore to call corn ethanol “a mistake.” That’s why an environmental science professor at the University of Northern Iowa said “it is simply false to call ethanol a renewable fuel.” Environmental groups across the country, from the Sierra Club to the Environmental Working Group, continue to be vocal in their opposition to corn ethanol.  

In light of this emerging consensus against corn ethanol, Iowa’s election results stand out as the final political obstacle to fall before Washington can finally act. As public support for the ethanol mandate continues to crumble, Congress must take action to protect consumers and help our environment and end the outdated ethanol mandates.

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