The Puzzling Battle Over Ethanol in Iowa

But Iowa’s Legislature is caught between the economic engine of renewable energy and the convenience stores that dot the landscape of the state as well — Casey’s, Kum & Go. With thousands of stores each, state lawmakers are probably more likely to have a convenience store in their district than an ethanol plant.

This criticism against the renewable standard is “whether a renewable standard would drive up, or lower, costs for consumers,” the Des Moines Register piece noted. Yet, E15 right now typically runs between 5 cents to 10 cents cheaper at the major fuel retailers. The price spread often is even more beneficial at local cooperatives.

A group call the “Fuel Choice Coalition” argues that retailers would have to spend more on pumps — up to $500,000 a piece. Anyone who drives around Iowa, though, also knows the retailers are constantly expanding and upgrading their stores and pumps. Glenwood, Iowa, where I live, had only a couple of E15 pumps, and zero E85 pumps, until Casey’s built a new store three years ago. Suddenly there was some choice to consumers who want to support renewable fuels.

There also are complaints that the 11% biodiesel requirement would cause truckers to bypass Iowa for fuel. That complaint didn’t stop Minnesota from moving ahead.

The retailers, though, claim a high percentage of their stores are not equipped for E15. This basically highlights that Iowa retailers have not right now accepted the value that renewable fuels provide for the Iowa economy. Why haven’t the retailers so far advanced with the biofuels industry over the past two decades? Apparently, they need an incentive or a mandate to nudge their efforts along?

Former President Donald Trump put a marker down for biofuels when he came into Iowa in summer 2019 and signed the waiver that allowed E15 sales year-round. That policy decision by President Trump and his team was meant to create a spark for greater use of ethanol. Now other policymakers, such as state legislators, are being asked to help firm the support that the Trump administration put in motion.

Iowa’s federal elected officials and the renewable fuels industry have been turning to President Joe Biden calling on him to ensure there’s a place in his long-term climate policies for liquid fuels that lower the carbon footprint. The biofuels industry built over the past two-plus decades in the Midwest is now battling for some environmental appreciation against a strategy to expand electric vehicles. Ethanol and biodiesel have a lot of potential to continue driving down greenhouse emissions and even boosting fuel economy as policies shift to high-octane fuels. The biofuel market could continue to grow even as sales of EVs rise.

Ethanol and biodiesel can continue to provide a climate-change opportunity, but that effort could grind down if policymakers in the nation’s leading state for production do not want to take steps to provide a boost for both use and production.…

Chris Clayton can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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