The Ottumwa Courier

AP Iowa

November 25, 2013

Iowans worry about ethanol's lost political clout

(Continued)

Ethanol supporters insist the federal requirement is still justified even though the U.S. reliance on foreign oil is dropping, and for the first time in two decades, the U.S. produces more crude oil than it imports.

"We use 10-percent of ethanol in the gasoline in our cars. Do you want to import another 10 percent of oil" Grassley told the AP. "No, you don't."

While oil companies are pushing to escape the ethanol mandate, environmental groups are growing concerned about the impact of increased corn production. Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than a decade ago, according to an Associated Press analysis, taking land out of conservation use and applying more pesticides and herbicides.

Years ago, "there was a strong argument for encouraging the use of available resources like corn, for ethanol. Those days have passed," Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said in a statement.

In a sign of ethanol's eroding political support, the winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum, called during his campaign for phasing out the federal mandate.

The prospects for support in the possible 2016 presidential field are uncertain. About a week ago, Branstad brought up ethanol support privately with 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan before the Wisconsin representative headlined a Branstad campaign fundraiser.

Ryan declined to comment publicly on the EPA's ethanol proposal. A spokeswoman for Christie also declined to comment on Christie's position. Among possible Democratic candidates, neither Clinton nor Vice President Joe Biden has commented publicly about the issue recently.

Some question whether the economic impact on Iowa would be as dire as its political leaders suggest.

Only about 2,000 people work full time in the industry nationwide, said Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson, adding, "Worldwide demand for corn is still very strong."

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Associated Press Writer Ken Thomas in Phoenix, Ariz., contributed to this story.

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