Industry responds to GOP's anti-ethanol policy

By Kris Bevill | August 04, 2008
Web exclusive posted Sept. 4, 2008 at 11:06 a.m. CST

It seemed almost ironic that an education/awareness party sponsored by many agriculture and ethanol organizations was held the day after the Republican Party unanimously passed a decidedly anti-ethanol platform. (See EPM's Republicans pass anti-ethanol platform for more information.) However, industry members and government officials in St. Paul, Minn., for the Republican National Convention eagerly participated in the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council AgNite event held Sept. 2 in downtown Minneapolis.

Leslie Shuler, communications director for Agri-Growth, said the event was held to celebrate agriculture and educate attendees on food, biofuels and energy. The invitation-only gathering attracted over 3,000 people throughout the night, including Democratic and Republican congressional members, foreign dignitaries, media and members of the agriculture and renewable fuels industries. Shuler said the idea for the event was formed as soon as St. Paul was announced as the 2008 convention location "because it is so rare for either convention to come to the Midwest." The council will look to host similar events at both Democratic and Republican conventions in the future.

The Minnesota Corn Grower's Association was a major sponsor of the event. Bruce Stockman, executive director of the MCGA, said the party met the association's intended goals of spreading a positive message about ethanol, corn, food, agriculture and energy. Was the GOP's anti-ethanol platform a topic of discussion throughout the night? "Absolutely," Stockman said. "Here in Minnesota I don't know how you could say something more devastating," he said, adding that the policy was seen as somewhat of a slap in the face to Minnesota and the entire Midwest. "It's my view that so-goes the Midwest goes the election of the president," Stockman continued. "To be so opposed to the renewable fuel standard as a platform seems like not a good decision."

According to Stockman, the MCGA had hoped that Republican Presidential Candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would have selected Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty as his vice president because of his more moderate views towards ethanol. Had Pawlenty been chosen, the platform on ethanol might have been stabilized a bit. However, given the choices made by McCain, Stockman said it seems clear that the adopted platforms represent the views of the presidential ticket rather than the Republican delegation as a whole.

Nick Bowdish, business developer for Fagen Inc. which was also a sponsor of AgNite, agreed that while the official position of the Republican Party is a disappointment, it does not accurately represent the entire party. "We at Fagen very much appreciate many of the senators and folks in strong leadership positions within the party that still understand the benefits of ethanol and the importance of weaning our nation off of foreign oil," he said. Bowdish mentioned that Senators Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and John Thune, R-S.D., spoke out in support of ethanol at an agriculturally-focused breakfast the morning after the party platform was passed as did Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., that afternoon.

Following the passage of the party's platform, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, commented during a news conference that federal mandates are the reason for the current "vibrant energy business" in the United States. "Obviously, I disagree with that part of our platform but I'm not going to worry about it very much because we've been meeting the mandates way ahead of time so I can't totally argue that they're needed," he said. Grassley said the Republican presidential ticket is overall good for agriculture and "there's nothing anti-agriculture about it." However, he admitted that he's unfamiliar with Vice Presidential Candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's agriculture policies but he assumes she will not attempt any changes to the current farm program because the Alaskan senators typically don't weigh in on food issues "other than fishing."