DES MOINES, Iowa March 7, 2015 – Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry disappointed an audience hungry for him to reverse his opposition to federal biofuel policy and instead gave a muddled argument for leaving it to states to support renewable energy development.
“This is substantially more a state issue than a national issue,” Perry said, when pressed by the sponsor of an historic gathering of likely presidential candidates, ethanol industry leader Bruce Rastetter.Perry noted that Texas had chosen to support the development of its wind power industry by encouraging the extension of power transmission from the western side of the state to its urban centers.
“If states want to put processes, policies, subsidies into place that should be their call. But I philosophically don’t agree that Washington, D.C., needs to be making those decisions,” Perry said.
But Perry left some in the audience scratching their heads when he seemed to support leaving existing biofuel mandates on the books. He said the Renewable Fuel Standard, “I don’t think you pull the RFS out and discriminate against the RFS and leave all these other subsidies and mandates and policies into place.”
The lack of clarity and the renewable energy policy should be left to the states won’t help Perry’s appeal in Iowa. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who appeared after Perry, emphatically reiterated his philosophical opposition to mandates for biofuels.
“I don’t think he gave an articulate answer to the questions,” said Tom Buis, president and CEO of Growth Energy, an ethanol industry trade group. “Certainly when he started talked about doing state-level programs that doesn’t work on fuel that travels across state lines. You can’t have boutique fuels for this state and that state.”
A Perry representative later sent a statement of clarification to Agri-Pulse, saying he “has a philosophical objection to the federal government distorting the marketplace, whether it’s direct subsidies, tax credits, or fuel mandates.”
But the statement went on to suggest it was premature to dismantle the RFS: “We should not single out ethanol and the RFS while ignoring tax credits, subsidies and mandates for other fuel and energy producers. Gov. Perry supports a review of all federal energy mandates, tax incentives and subsidies to see if and how they protect our food supply and strengthen our energy industry, help small farmers succeed, and ultimately, ensure a responsible use of taxpayer dollars.”
Perry defended his unsuccessful appeals to the EPA to waive the corn ethanol mandates as a way of reducing corn prices at a time cattle producers were struggling with a drought. “Looking back on it, I made the right decision for the people of the state of Texas and cattle producers at that particular point in time,” he said.
Perry’s agricultural roots are far deeper than most of the potential candidates – he grew up on a cotton farm and once served as Texas agriculture commissioner – and he was probably in agreement with the audience on most other issues.
On biotechnology, he said, “We need to do a better job explaining to people that it’s safe, that it will make our farming and ranching more sustainable, that we can feed people around the world.”
But he opposed ending the embargo with Cuba, a market U.S. farmers are hungry to tap, arguing that the Castro regime made it a fundamentally different situation than China. “What we see with China is they basically practice Communism at night and capitalism in the daytime,” Perry said.
He said President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba “basically empowered the Castro regime” in Cuba.