Promises made in Iowa

How important are comments about ethanol made by presidential candidates, muses Mike Bryan, when nearly all claim they support it when in Iowa? This column appears in the February issue of EPM.
By Mike Bryan | January 21, 2016

All eyes are turning to Iowa as the State Caucus looms on Feb. 1. Of course, those of us in the ethanol industry hang on every word candidates speak when it comes to ethanol and renewable energy, in general. I wonder, however, if it really makes a great deal of difference.

In theory, it’s great to have a president who supports renewable energy, but in practice, Congress is the body that actually determines the success or failure of our industry. I’m reminded of this when I hear presidential candidates make wild claims about what they are going to do if they are elected to the Oval Office. In fact, there is little they can do (outside of veto power) without Congressional approval, as it relates to renewable energy.

I’m not a Washington insider, so what I’m saying here may not be the view of those who are insiders. But, from someone who has seen a few presidents come and go (more than I would like to admit), I do wonder how important their comments about renewable energy are, when they are vying for the top job. Aside from only a handful of candidates over the years, just about all of them, when they are in Iowa, say they support ethanol. Following through on that commitment is another story.

Not to do so would be like a vegetarian seeking the position of CEO for the National Cattlemen’s Association. If you really wanted the job, you would probably, albeit reluctantly, wolf down a T-bone over dinner with the board and comment that there is nothing like a good steak. Of course, once you have the top job, there are all sorts of reasons you can revert back to being a vegetarian but, boy, deep down I really do support the meat industry. I think you get my point.

Over the years I’ve become pretty cynical about what politicians promise when on the campaign trail. The political realities of Washington soon come to roost once the election is over. That list includes campaign donations, the compromises required in order to get things though Congress and pressures from a vast array of lobby groups, all with very convincing stories.

I don’t pay a lot of attention to what is said on the campaign trail about ethanol, because I don’t think it makes a lot of difference. What makes a difference is what’s in their heart. Unfortunately it’s difficult to know that unless they have some voting or other public track record of either support or opposition. Looking at a number of candidates, what they say about ethanol in Iowa and what their track record is, are two different things. Some have no track record at all on ethanol and it becomes almost impossible to know if they are simply saying what Iowans and others want to hear. Maybe we should listen to them when they are campaigning in the coal country of Kentucky or in the oil producing states of Oklahoma or Texas. Renewable energy would likely not be on their list of topics.

So I’ll let the political insiders make the call on which candidate is best suited from a renewable energy perspective. For me, I’m not sure it makes a gnat’s worth of difference.

That’s the way I see it.

Author: Mike Bryan
Chairman, BBI International
mbryan@bbiinternational.com