With the Iowa caucuses just a week away, Ted Cruz is duking it out with Donald Trump. But Cruz is also taking a beating from a less well-known opponent: the biofuel industry.
The problem is Cruz's stance on the Renewable Fuel Standard, a federal mandate that requires fuels made from corn, sugarcane, and other biological sources to be mixed into the nation's gasoline supply. The most prominent of these fuels is ethanol made from corn. Cruz wants to abolish the RFS (along with all government mandates and subsidies for energy, including for fossil fuels and renewables). Last week in New Hampshire he described the RFS as yet another way in which the government is "picking winners and losers."
That position sets him apart from the other Iowa front-runners, Republican and Democrat alike.Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both expressed support for the RFS. Trump recently said he wants to increase the mandate.
Cruz's position could be a major liability in Iowa, where the RFS has become one of the most important corn-related federal programs and is a major fixture in the state's politics. Iowaproduces by far the most corn-based ethanol and thus arguably benefits more than any other state from the RFS. Last week, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) called for Cruz's defeat in the caucuses, specifically citing Cruz's "anti-renewable fuel stand." (Branstad's son works for the ethanol trade group America's Renewable Future, the organization in the Twitter photo above.) Last week, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), a longtime proponent of the RFS, said he agreed with Branstad's criticism of Cruz. Of course, Iowa Republicans aren't all single-issue voters, and it remains to be seen how much ethanol will matter to caucus-goers.
Still, Cruz's opposition to ethanol mandates puts him in a place you would never expect to find him: on the right side of a debate about climate change. Throughout the campaign, the Texas senator has been second only to Trump in his outspoken denial of mainstream global warming science. He has repeatedly used his Senate position to espouse blatantly misleading data that purportedly shows global warming stopped two decades ago. In August, he accused climate scientists of"cooking the books" and later told Glenn Beck that at this point climate change activists resemble a "religion."
But on ethanol, Cruz is on the right track.
To understand why, let's back up a bit. At the global climate talks in Paris in December, the United States committed to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. That goal mainly hinges on slashing pollution from coal-fired power plants. But the president's plan also calls for filling the tanks of the nation's cars and trucks with ever more fuel made from plants. The same day the Paris talks got underway, the Obama administrationincreased the requirements of the RFS. The new rules guarantee a growing market for corn-based ethanol, as well as for cutting-edge biofuels made of everything from grass to algae.