A recent survey showed that 84 percent of likely Iowa Democratic caucus voters hope to support a candidate that understands the importance of renewable biofuels like corn-based ethanol. That’s no surprise. Iowa farmers have been at the vanguard of a clean energy revolution that is doing more to protect the climate than anyone could have imagined when Congress passed the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005. Iowa is also home to dozens of biofuel plants, which provide a healthy market for our grains and create well-paying manufacturing jobs in rural communities.
As an added benefit, ethanol blends consistently bring down prices at the pump, saving the average U.S. household about $142 each year, according to the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.
Now that progress is under attack. A Washington, D.C.-based pressure group called Mighty Earth has dispatched paid "organizers" to Iowa. We saw their playbook on full display in an April 5 column authored by Mighty Earth’s Corinne Noonan. This group states they are interested in protecting the environment but they are doing the oil companies’ work in attacking renewable fuels.
These environmental activists say they are interested in protecting the environment but they are doing the oil companies’ work in attacking renewable fuels.
They claim to care about the earth, but the group’s script reflects the same old myths that the oil industry has been circulating about ethanol for a decade. In fact, they are touting a bogus study that has now been re-released and debunked three times – 2015, 2017,and 2019. The study relies on computers to interpret satellite images – a process known to confuse cropland with pasture or even urban housing. It was funded by a long-time "green" member of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers Association’s anti-biofuel campaign, "Smarter Fuel Future." The association represents Marathon and ExxonMobil, among others.
They claim that farmers are plowing up native grass to grow feedstocks. But on-the-ground data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows clearly that biofuels are dramatically cutting carbon dioxide emissions without adding new cropland. On-the-farm conservation practices mean we’re getting more renewable energy from the same amount of land year after year. In fact, just this month, we saw new publicly funded research from the USDA and leading universities showing that the conservation benefits of biofuels are greater than expected, with carbon reductions on pace to hit as much as 70 percent – after accounting for cropland.
So why is our state being targeted with pay-for-play nonsense? Competition. Biofuel production drives $2.5 billion of income for Iowa households, and oil companies want that money back. If they succeed, it would destroy the market for Iowa grains, forcing more family farms out of business and consolidating what’s left into fewer and fewer hands.
For those of us who care deeply about the planet, it’s important to correct the record and protect the transition to renewable energy.
We cannot let Iowa become a proving ground for misinformation. The climate fight is too important, and Iowa farmers can’t afford another setback. Farm income has plummeted 44 percent over the last six years. Critics falsely insist that farmers are buying up new land, but the truth is that many are facing bankruptcy. Calls into Farm Aid’s crisis hotline have doubled.
For Iowans who truly support green energy, the path is clear. We must call on all candidates – Democrat and Republican – to explain how they will lead the fight to expand the use of renewable biofuels, support rural prosperity and fight back against those who would restore the oil industry’s monopoly over our options at the fuel pump.
Editor's note: This column has been updated. It now includes a reference to the group Mighty Earth that was inadvertently left out of the original.