THE BLOG

Big Oil and Big Corn Square off: Biodiesel and Democrats Lose

06/13/2014 05:16 pm ET | Updated Aug 13, 2014
Marwood Jenkins via Getty Images

Imagine, if you can, that in this polarized, partisan, divided D.C., there were environmentally friendly standards that were so common sense and on-target that Republicans and Democrats across two administrations could agree to them.

Now imagine a government agency scrapping those same standards.

Not easy, right? But that's exactly what's happening in Washington right now, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prepares to reduce the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Until 2014, the Obama Administration always supported raising the RFS, which mandates the amount of biofuels blended into our national fuel supply every year. But now the EPA is proposing keeping the 2013 standards through 2015. The big question here is why.

There's been no end to the guesses as to why an agency tasked with protecting the environment (after all, it's right there in the name) would, suddenly and without explanation, work against an environmentally sound law that drew support from George W. Bush and the party that brought America "drill, baby, drill!" At first, it seemed like perhaps this was a way for the Obama Administration to make nice with Big Oil right before it killed the Keystone Pipeline. But, with the Keystone project put on hold indefinitely, it seems like that might not be the answer.

The potential EPA decision also seems to be pitting Big Oil against Big Corn and there's always the thought that money is greasing the wheels here (pun intended). Big Oil is spending $81 million a year in lobbying -- three times more than Big Corn -- and perhaps they're looking to see a return on investment.

But the EPA isn't only talking about cutting ethanol. This decision would take a major swipe at biodiesel as well. Biodiesel is made from renewable sources like used cooking oils that would otherwise be dumped by restaurants -- becoming sludge in our environment. This is from the EPA's own website: "It is safe to use in any diesel engine and is more sustainable and far less polluting than conventional petroleum diesel. Biodiesel significantly reduces asthma-causing soot, greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide in air emissions." Biodiesel is environmentally friendly, so why is the EPA taking a whack at it?

Reuters added an interesting wrinkle last month by suggesting that it was actually the politically powerful Carlyle Group and Delta Air Lines (owners of two Philly-area refineries) that were putting pressure on Vice President Biden and other key Obama Administration players to make sure their interests were protected. This would be the same Carlyle Group that has strong ties to the Saudi Royal family and the Bin Ladens, who, until October 2001, were investors in the group. In fact, The Carlyle Group has organized at least two meetings between President George H.W. Bush and the Binladens (many members of the family prefer to spell their name this way. They also claim to have severed all ties between themselves and Osama Bin Laden). Although they claim to not to be a lobbying firm, clearly The Carlyle Group would not be advocating for anything that took money from the pockets of Big Oil since they are so clearly in the pockets of Big Oil, even if it meant taking sludge waste and turning it into an environmentally sound source of energy.

It's not just the environment that could take a hit here. This potential EPA decision has serious political ramifications too, especially in states like Iowa, where Corn is King. And this is where Democrats have got to stop shooting themselves in the foot. The race to replace retiring Senator Tom Harkin is already close between Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley and Tea Party darling Joni Ernst (who starts off her campaign ad with a tale of how she grew up castrating pigs in what must have been one confusing and horrific childhood). Now Ernst has come out in favor of biofuels and Braley is on the defensive because this potential decision is being handed down by his own party. A move like the one the EPA is proposing could cost the Democrats a Senate seat, not only putting control of the Senate in jeopardy, but putting someone like Joni Ernst in the Senate. (Remember, she starts her campaign ad talking about castration and goes on to say she wants to change the nation's healthcare system. Think about that, male voter, as you head into your Des Moines polling center).

It's not just Iowa. Senator Al Franken, who's also up for reelection, is a strong proponent of biodiesel because he knows how important it is to the economy of his home state of Minnesota, which has, in many ways, been a leader in the biofuel industry. A decision like the one the EPA is proposing is going to make his campaign that much harder. And it's not just this year, either. Future Democratic candidates running for Senate seats in states like Missouri, Montana and North Dakota could take a hit because of the RFS being slashed.

This is so bizarrely out-of-character for the White House -- which has never been a friend to Big Oil before -- that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a powerful watchdog group in Washington is even calling for an investigation. As they should. The EPA must explain why they want to change course on the RFS and decrease the amount of biofuels produced going forward. The ramifications to our environment, both natural and political are too great. I don't want to see our country take a giant step back in the effort to reduce our dependence on oil and explore environmentally safe, alternative, and renewable energy sources. And I sure as hell don't want to see our Senate fall into the hands of Tea Party leaders like Joni Ernst and Ted Cruz (who, may I remind you, failed to grasp the driving narrative behind Green Eggs and Ham, a book that consists of a mere 50 words).

Ultimately, though, I hope that an investigation is unnecessary and that the EPA decides to stay the current course and increase the amount of biofuels in our national fuel supply. Because it's the right thing to do in any environment.