How Ethanol Became a Wedge Issue in Iowa

(Image: Flickr / Sweeter Alternative)

(Image: Flickr / Sweeter Alternative)

As the “lamestream” media, late-night talk show hosts, and Sarah Palin impersonator-in-chief Tina Fey lapped up the former Alaska governor’s first remarks to Donald Trump’s “right-wingin’ bitter-clingin’” supporters, one of her most hilarious lines didn’t get the attention it deserved.

Some Republicans are “even whispering they’re ready to throw in for Hillary over Trump because they can’t afford to see the status quo go,” John McCain’s 2008 running mate said. “Otherwise, they won’t be able to be slurping off the gravy train that’s been feeding them all these years. They don’t want that to end.”


Iowa, home to the first official contests for the major parties’ nominations, is the nation’s top ethanol producer. Saluting its corn-flavored gravy train is a rite of passage for presidential candidates courting Iowa voters like the ones at the Ames rally Palin was addressing.

And Trump, like every presidential candidate other than the libertarian-tinged RepublicansTed Cruz and Rand Paul, supports the government-pampered ethanol industry.

On the same day that Palin made her boisterous return to the political spotlight — and just one week before his state’s caucuses — Governor Terry Branstad proclaimed his opposition to Cruz. “I think it would be very damaging to our state” for Iowa’s other leading GOP contender besides Trump to become president, Branstad told reporters at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit.

Trump also addressed the event, hosted by Iowa’s main ethanol trade group in Altoona.

“We are with you, folks, and we’ve been with you since day one,” The Donald said, after assuring the assembled leaders of Big Corn that he would leave the Renewable Fuel Standard intact.

The RFS is a government program that requires gasoline sold in the United States to be blended with ethanol. This mandate theoretically boosts U.S. energy independence, buffers gas prices from spikes, and helps our nation fight climate change.

But growing government-subsidized corn to power transportation makes no environmental sense. It increases the acreage dedicated to a single crop, destroying farmland for a harvest that feeds no one. It does nothing to improve the American diet at a time when millions of us are obese and badly nourished.

Then there’s the crop’s horrible water footprint: It takes 75 gallons of water and 50 acres of land to grow enough corn for a single gallon of ethanol. It takes another three gallons of water to convert that corn into fuel in a factory. And the agribusiness model for corn grown for fuel consumes vast quantities of fertilizers and pesticides, which poison local waterways.

Meeting the challenge of the climate crisis means that Americans must drive less and get more miles per gallon when we hit the road. Burning gasoline blended with 10 percent ethanol, as the mandate currently requires, shaves 3 percent off a vehicle’s fuel efficiency, according to the government’s own data. That wastes oil — as does growing the corn and hauling it to processing plants.

And at current prices for oil and corn, ethanol has become so expensive to produce that the numbers no longer add up, according to professor Scott Irwin and professor emeritus Darrel Good of the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics.

In other words, if the government stopped forcing industry to purchase the fuel, ethanol demand would evaporate. But since Iowa happens to be one of only seven swing states that will probably decide the 2016 presidential election, this gravy train will surely keep chugging along for years to come.

So slurp, baby, slurp.

The post How Ethanol Became a Wedge Issue in Iowa appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.


Avoid a sad story: Focus on safety – Iowa Farmer Today

Avoid a sad story: Focus on safety
Iowa Farmer Today
HE MADE the risky decision to cross a muddy dam to hay cattle. He had other options, but chose to cross this narrow dam in April of 1993 … My sister and I had lost our father. My mother was left without her soul mate. My child, who we are expecting


Farm Bureau issues bird flu impact study – Iowa Farmer Today

Farm Bureau issues bird flu impact study
Iowa Farmer Today
17 indicating the avian flu outbreak in Iowa cost producers nearly 8,500 jobs and almost $ 427 million in lost revenue when the disease forced the depopulation of 34 million birds on 77 farms earlier this year. The study, commissioned by the Farm Bureau


‘Slow money’ promotes locally grown food | Business | – Iowa State Daily

Iowa State Daily
'Slow money' promotes locally grown food | Business |
Iowa State Daily
While continuing research on the slow money movement and how it can promote local agriculture and nutrition, Jayashankar is also working on other sustainability-related projects on collaborative consumption, food deserts and the motivation of organic …

and more »


Grants to assist Iowa workers affected by Ankeny and Waterloo layoffs

This NEG’s value is up to $ 3,058,322 — with $ 518,643 for initial release — to provide reemployment and training services to approximately 650 of 1,312 workers affected by the layoffs at John Deere facilities in Ankeny and Waterloo, Iowa. Of the 650 workers targeted for services, 461 individuals from the Waterloo facility have been certified as eligible for Trade Adjustment Assistance. This dual enrollment project will provide the TAA-certified workers with access to “wrap around” and supportive services that are not available through the TAA program. |||||||

Iowa, tops in egg production, strives to keep bird flu out –
Iowa, tops in egg production, strives to keep bird flu out
The discovery of bird flu on an Iowa turkey farm has raised serious concerns that the poultry-killing virus could find its way into chicken barns in the nation's top egg-producing state and savage flocks that provide the breakfast staple. Iowa is home

and more »


Global demand strong for beef – Iowa Farmer Today

Global demand strong for beef
Iowa Farmer Today
But, competition from poultry and pork will also be strong as those industries ramp up production. A strain of avian … A labor dispute on the West Coast has also forced the pork and beef industries to start shipping frozen, rather than chilled


Iowa boy’s dog shot during walk – Sioux City Journal

Iowa boy's dog shot during walk
Sioux City Journal
Des Moines County Sheriff's deputies arrested Cody Trails Warth, 21, 17675 Falcon Road, Thursday evening on charges of second-degree criminal mischief, a class D felony, and animal abuse and shooting a rifle across a roadway, both misdemeanors.

and more »


DOL, Iowa Workforce Development sign agreement to reduce misclassification of employees as independent contractors

Officials of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division and Iowa Workforce Development today signed a memorandum of understanding to protect the rights of employees by preventing their misclassification as independent contractors by employers. |||||||

Iowa Farms Minting Millionaires Spur Rich-Poor Gap as Land Booms – San Francisco Chronicle

Iowa Farms Minting Millionaires Spur Rich-Poor Gap as Land Booms
San Francisco Chronicle
Booming worldwide demand for grain has showered wealth on farmers by tripling Iowa land values in the past decade and setting them up for record profits this year, even in the face of the nation's worst drought in more than half a century, the U.S

and more »