Will the Renewable Fuel Standard impact the 2016 elections?

By Jonathan H Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2015 - The escalating battle over the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) added another front Thursday. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson warned President Obama that lowering the RFS volume requirements could result in Democrats losing otherwise winnable congressional races in the 2016 elections.

Johnson warned that unless Obama comes out in strong support of the RFS, including raising the RFS volume mandate to its original level, “he's going to be hanging a rock around the neck of his candidates.”

In a press conference call, Johnson explained that the Oct. 5-7 poll taken in six rural Midwestern congressional districts in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio and South Dakota by HaystaqDNA “demonstrates the importance of support for the Renewable Fuel Standard from political candidates in rural areas.” He said the poll results “show a clear political advantage for candidates that support the RFS, a policy that has been a shot in the arm for rural economies.”

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Both because it's the best policy and popular in rural America, Johnson said, President Obama “needs to show his support for a strong RFS” by insisting on raising the EPA's ethanol volume mandate to the levels set by Congress. He warned Obama that issuing lower volume obligations as proposed by EPA “almost certainly would negatively impact” Democrats in the 2016 elections.

Johnson's warning about Democrats' potential losses in the 2016 elections is based on a memo from Ryan Fitzpatrick, the deputy director of the clean energy program at Third Way, a Democratic think tank. The memo on “Strong RFS Support Offers Low-Risk Opportunity for Democrats to Connect with Voters They Need to Retake Majority,” concludes that “The fact that the RFS invariably becomes a priority campaign issue for presidential primary candidates passing through Iowa serves as evidence of this policy's regional importance. And the controversial RFS rulemaking process currently underway at EPA could push this issue even closer to the spotlight in 2016.”

The memo notes that with Democrats aiming to regain control of the House and Senate in 2016, poll results show that:

·      “Support for the RFS (and opposition to EPA proposals to weaken it) is a net positive for the Democratic Party.”

·      “While the Democratic Party has traditionally enjoyed an edge on the RFS, Republicans are well positioned to seize the issue in the event the Obama Administration issues a final rule to weaken the RFS.”

·      “Rural states are essential for any strategy to regain Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Moderate voters are a sizable portion of the electorate and will ultimately make the difference in close races.”

·      “The RFS is well known by moderate voters in these districts, is important to these voters, and the research shows that they are more likely to support pro-RFS candidates than oppose them by a two-to-one margin.”

·      “The RFS will not only aid the Democratic Party's broader strategy to take back the majority, but it provides the Party with an opening for a broader conversation with these voters on energy and environmental issues.”

Fitzpatrick added in Thursday's press conference that while rural voters and their members of Congress generally oppose the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan to limit coal power plant emissions and its controversial Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, the RFS enjoys widespread support.

Johnson's warning coincides with a very different warning from RFS opponents. In a Nov. 4 letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, a bipartisan group of 184 members of Congress said that EPA must keep required RFS volumes below the levels set by Congress “to help limit the economic and consumer harm this program has already caused.” For details, see Lawmakers urge EPA to reconsider RFS proposals.


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Johnson's warning, the congressional letter to EPA, and competing public relations campaigns all focus on the fact that EPA is under court order to deliver its overdue RFS volume requirements for 2014, 2015 and 2016 by Nov. 30. In May, EPA proposed levels far below those set by Congress, sparking protests from the ethanol industry. But since the proposed levels were above those EPA had proposed earlier, the oil industry also protested. It charges that raising the RFS volume mandate would require more than the 10 percent ethanol blend which the oil industry considers “safe” for the U.S. vehicle fleet. The industry also maintains that its distribution network isn't equipped to handle more than 10 percent ethanol - a concern that USDA has addressed by providing an extra $100 million to help pay the costs of installing more blender pumps at filling stations in 21 states.

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