Opinion: Corn farmers may be betrayed by Trump turnaround

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Dave Dickey

Up until now, the POTUS has drawn a line in the sand in support of ethanol (mostly stocked by corn farmers in mostly red states) in general and the Renewable Fuels Standard, a law that requires oil refiners to blend ethanol into the nation’s gasoline supply.

The Renewable Fuels Standard was enacted into law back in 2005 as a way to help the U.S. toward oil independence and provide some environmental benefit on the idea that burning ethanol releases less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than burning fossil fuels.

The federal standard has been a boon to corn farmers, both stimulating new corn production and demand while helping to prop up corn prices.

In the 2016 election then-candidate Donald Trump called for increasing ethanol blending requirements to match statutory levels set by Congress.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which sets the blending requirement year-to-year, hasn’t complied with the Congressional mandate mostly because  not enough has been done to build the  infrastructure to produce advanced bio-fuels.

The Renewable Fuel Standard has also been public enemy number one with Big Oil since day one.

Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil and oil trade advocate American Petroleum Institute have done all they could to try to kill the mandate for the obvious reason: the more ethanol one is required to blend, the less oil is sold.  It’s a profit thing.

The bitter hand-to-hand-tit-for-tat war has raged on for more than a decade with neither the Renewable Fuels Association nor the American Petroleum Institute willing to give quarter on their talking points.

Mostly the federal standard has come out on top in what has become mostly a binary discussion about its merits.

That is until now.

On December 7, the POTUS and some of his cabinet met with nine Republican senators from Big Oil producing states.

President Trump is calling for a meeting of lawmakers in oil and ethanol states to find a mutually agreed upon solution to Big Oil’s claims that ethanol is putting refiners out of business.

White House chief of staff John Kelly has invited Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley (who is already publicly on record at saying such meeting would be a waste of time), while USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue is asking Iowa Senator Joni Ernst to join the big-oil party.

Well.  One must wonder what an overhaul of the Renewable Fuel Standard would look like where corn farmers don’t come out on the short end of the stick.  This is shaping up to be a donnybrook.  Stay tuned.

About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.

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