Ethanol industry exec: Spirited campaigns helped build bipartisan support for biofuels

By: - November 4, 2020 3:02 pm

Green Plains has an ethanol plant in Superior, Iowa. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A top ethanol industry official said the blistering campaign that left control of the U.S. Senate and the presidency still undecided the day after the election still gave biofuels interests reasons to be bullish. 

That’s because strong bipartisan support emerged for ethanol and other biofuels as candidates crisscrossed the Midwestern grain belt, said Emily Skor, CEO of industry group Growth Energy. 

Emily Skor is CEO of Growth Energy, a biofuels trade organization. (Photo courtesy of Growth Energy)

In many races, including the too-close-to-call 2nd Congressional District race between Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Democrat Rita Hart, both major party candidates strongly supported ethanol, Skor said.    

“We’re still looking at what the Senate is going to be, and obviously what the presidency is going to be, but I think what was good for us to see was, first, our issues were at the forefront of the debate,” Skor said in an interview. “And if you look at a lot of really important, critical races in the middle of the country, biofuels are very much at the center of the conversation.”

Iowa is the top producer of corn and ethanol made of the grain.

With the nation divided sharply on social and economic issues, the pro-ethanol candidates had mixed success, Skor said. U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst held on to her seat in a high-budget fight against Democratic businesswoman Theresa Greenfield. But Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, a 30-year veteran Democratic lawmakers in a red-turning rural district, lost to Republican Michelle Fischbach, who also supports the biofuels industry

Peterson was chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, so Midwestern farm interests will be following the choice of his replacement closely. 

The presidential candidates also made a point in their last-minute pitches in Iowa and other Midwestern states to talk about ethanol issues. “You had both candidates coming to Iowa, and making a point of talking about ethanol and fighting for that vote by sparring over ethanol,” Skor said. 

“That’s what we want to see because, I mean, ethanol has traditionally had bipartisan support,” she added. “You saw that going into the election and you see that in the results coming out. That’s exactly what we wanted to see, to be able to put the policies in place that we need moving forward.”

Part of that moving forward is to convince places like China, and even California, to buy and allow higher blends of ethanol. The higher octane means the fuel burns cleaner, and emits less greenhouse gas tied to climate change, Skor said. 

China had announced its first nationwide program to buy and use ethanol, but purchases of U.S. ethanol fizzled when the trade war broke out, Skor said. Canada and Brazil have continued to be strong customers for exports. 

A key for the federal administration, no matter who wins the remaining undecided elections, will be to push for regulations that will allow retailers to use E15 in their current equipment, Skor said. 

Another key will be how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency handles regulations on using higher octane versions of ethanol, and whether EPA grants small refineries’ requests for exemptions from a federal law that requires them to use a certain amount of ethanol. 

As of early afternoon Wednesday, the presidential race was too close to call as battleground states continued to count millions of mailed absentee ballots.

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.