With ethanol case spent, fans resort to dragon-slaying

Feb. 1, 2016
With arguments crumbling for governmental support of ethanol, politicians have joined lobbyists to slay the "big-oil" dragon.

With arguments crumbling for governmental support of ethanol, politicians have joined lobbyists to slay the "big-oil" dragon.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, strayed from customary neutrality after US Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Fla.) reiterated his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and its volumetric mandates for ethanol. Most presidential candidates treat ethanol deferentially before the Iowa caucuses.

"He's heavily financed by 'big oil,'" Branstad opined at a renewable-fuel meeting in Altoona. "So we think once Iowans realize that fact, they might find other things attractive, but he could be very damaging to our state."

Real estate tycoon Donald Trump similarly had charged to King Corn's defense at a Dec. 11 rally in Des Moines, saying Cruz opposes ethanol mandates "because 'big oil' pays him a lot of money."

Ethanol mandates, of course, benefit Iowa's economy by boosting demand for corn and grain distillation.

Branstad deserves no fault for supporting industries important to his state. Trump deserves no fault for exploiting opportunity in a political campaign.

But is demonizing "big oil" the best ethanol supporters can do?

Yes. The case for ethanol is spent. Experience discredits once-ballyhooed environmental advantages. And new oil production weakens the appeal of supplementing domestic fuel supply.

The only Americans benefiting from ethanol are those profiting from the business. Everyone else must buy a gasoline additive with diminished energy content and worry that ethanol's advocates might win a concentration-ceiling increase potentially harmful to engines.

The oil business, meanwhile, doesn't oppose the RFS for competitive reasons, as "big-oil" blather implies. It opposes the program for requiring the impossible: selling more grain ethanol than the market can use and more cellulosic ethanol than suppliers can make.

The RFS is a statutory and regulatory disgrace. Iowans, sensible as they are, apparently know that. They might even realize the "big-oil" dragon represents a shrinking target for political opportunism.

At this writing, Cruz was performing well enough in Iowa polls to make Trump even more outrageous than usual.

About the Author

Bob Tippee | Editor

Bob Tippee has been chief editor of Oil & Gas Journal since January 1999 and a member of the Journal staff since October 1977. Before joining the magazine, he worked as a reporter at the Tulsa World and served for four years as an officer in the US Air Force. A native of St. Louis, he holds a degree in journalism from the University of Tulsa.