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Economy

Coddling the Corn Belt

Republican senators Grassley and Ernst pen a pro-ethanol op-ed that's downright Orwellian.

Brian Mark Weber · Oct. 19, 2018

At a recent Make America Great Again rally in Iowa, President Donald Trump stirred up the crowd by announcing that his administration had lifted the ban on the year-round production of E15 gas — fuel blended with 15% ethanol. That the news was revealed in Iowa is no coincidence: The state is host to a first-in-the-nation presidential caucus and holds six electoral votes that could make all the difference in 2020’s race to 270 electoral votes.

Also cheering for the president’s decision were Iowa’s two Republican senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, who responded by writing an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. “Biofuels are a part of everyday life in Iowa, the top corn- and ethanol-producing state in the U.S.,” the pair noted. “Ethanol supports more than 43,000 Iowa-based jobs and 350,000 jobs throughout the country, directly and indirectly. Ethanol contributed $44.4 billion to gross domestic product and $5 billion in federal tax revenue in 2017.”

So this is really about Making Iowa (and other Corn Belt states) Great Again, not America. Fair enough for two Hawkeye senators, but their ensuing dishonesty deserves to be challenged.

The Grassley-Ernst op-ed descended into frankly Orwellian terms, boasting of the “competition” brought by ethanol and lauding Trump’s move to undo an “Obama-era regulation” that “hinders consumer choice at the pump” and “deprived consumers of the ability to make their own fuel choices.” They claim that “consumer demand” should by all rights drive up the use of ethanol.

Yet all of that is exactly the opposite of reality. An onerous government mandate drives the use of ethanol, not consumer demand. And while Trump is technically “easing” a regulation to allow for year-round E15 sales, he’s actually boosting the overall Renewable Fuel Standard — one of the biggest and most draconian regulations in government. If consumers want gas with no ethanol, it’s tough to find. Only about 11% of gas stations in the U.S. offer pure gasoline, and it’s always significantly more expensive than its less-efficient, more-corrosive, ethanol-infused cousin.

No wonder Grassley fought so hard to save Brett Kavanaugh. The president got his Supreme Court justice, and Grassley ended up looking like the best friend Iowa farmers ever had.

But in order to truly drain the swamp, Republicans must occasionally gore their own oxen.

Our own Louis DeBroux recently wrote, “This move is entirely political. In fact, after the announcement, Trump held a MAGA rally in Iowa, and that was no coincidence. Between helping Iowa Republicans in the election and heartland farmers hurt by Trump’s own tariffs, the political ramifications are significant, so this decision is, sadly, hardly surprising.”

How did all this start anyway? Hot Air’s Jazz Shaw reminds us that Democrats and George W. Bush joined hands in 2007 to “require petroleum refiners to blend ever-increasing quantities of biofuels, chiefly ethanol, into gasoline, purportedly to promote energy independence and fight climate change.”

First of all, the U.S. is now the world’s number-one oil exporter. We need ethanol less today than ever before. And secondly, putting the debate on manmade global warming aside, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change both agree that producing ethanol is a greater threat to the environment in terms of land use, chemical runoff, lower food production, and total emissions.

Other issues that Iowa’s senators don’t seem concerned about include higher food prices, greater wear on engines that are built for gasoline, and increased environmental impact.

Investor’s Business Daily considers the fallout: “One of the most unexpected developments of the ethanol experiment is the loss of millions of acres of natural habitat to grow corn and soybeans, not for the dinner table but for the gas-station pump. Do we really want to use millions of acres of land for no reason other to satisfy the farm lobby? Equally bad is the use of agricultural nutrients and chemicals to grow the crops. Much of those fertilizers end up in runoff that ends up in our rivers and lakes, causing algae blooms and other negative effects. You pay for that clean up — not those making billions from these crops.”

Add in the billions of dollars spent by Americans to subsidize ethanol production in the past 30 years, and it’s pretty clear that this costly policy benefits only a relative handful of Corn Belt farmers and their political representatives in Washington.

Senators Grassley and Ernst both have a solidly conservative record on many issues, but they’re nothing more than self-interested swamp creatures when it comes to ethanol. And now President Trump is giving them exactly what they want. The president deserves great credit for keeping his promises and taking on establishment Washington, but his ethanol policy is feeding into the very swamp that he promised to drain.

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