Political Winds

How will the new leadership impact ethanol policies?
By Holly Jessen | December 27, 2010
Some strong ethanol advocates lost in the November election, including Earl Pomeroy and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, acknowledges Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association. Many more won, however, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. John Shimkus. "And, more importantly, for the most part, those defeated were replaced with equally strong advocates for value-added agriculture and ethanol," Dinneen says. The key, says Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, is educating new legislators about ethanol. "We have to go educate people about the issue and the facts," he says. "We think if the facts get out there, we win." Asked about a Republican-led House, the RFA and Growth Energy give the same answer. Ethanol is, and always has been, a bipartisan issue. It doesn't matter which party is in power. Instead, ethanol is typically a regional issue. People from the Midwest typically understand the economic benefits of ethanol better than those from other areas, Buis says. What is clear, Dinneen says, is that there will be a focus on reducing taxes and reigning in spending. There needs to be a debate about how to foster continued growth for the ethanol industry, attract funding for cellulosic ethanol and help commercialize other advanced biofuel technologies, such as algae and biobutanol. "This conversation ought to include whether and how we address tax policy for all fuels, including petroleum," Dinneen says. "The ethanol industry, and the domestic biofuel industry as a whole, ought not be asked to unilaterally disarm while extensive government support continues for petroleum companies." It will be a challenging climate for ethanol but also one of opportunity. "If we keep the focus on jobs; if we make the connection between increased ethanol use and reduced energy imports and a growing economy; if we demonstrate how ethanol production and use saves taxpayer dollars by increasing tax revenues and reducing farm program costs; then the 112th Congress and the American public will continue to support our industry and policies to assure its continued growth and evolution," Dinneen says. With the House shakeup, Rep. Nancy Pelosi will become minority leader and Rep. John Boehner will become Speaker of the House. In terms of support for ethanol, neither Dinneen nor Buis feel it will be much of a change. Boehner hails from Ohio and has been supportive of renewable fuels in the past. Rep. Collin Peterson will become the ranking minority member on the House Agriculture Committee and Rep. Frank Lucas will step into his shoes as ranking majority member. Lucas is from Oklahoma and has a degree in agricultural economics. "I don't think you'll see a lot of difference between him and Collin Peterson," Buis says. In early December, during the lame duck session, it was still unknown who would lead the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Three or four candidates were vying for the spot, Buis said, some of whom are from the Midwest and some who aren't. The Senate retained its Democratic majority. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan will become the next chairperson of the Senate Agriculture Committee, replacing Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who lost her bid for re-election. Stabenow is a long-time supporter of biofuels. "Agriculture is critical to Michigan's economy, employing a quarter of our workforce," Stabenow says. "Not only does agriculture create jobs and feed our families across America, but it is also helping us develop new fuels and energy sources."