2020 Democrats Caught Between Corn and Ethanol Foes in Iowa

by Jennifer A Dlouhy
July 3, 2019

Environmentalists are taking their case that corn-based ethanol is bad for the planet to the state that makes more of it than any other: Iowa.

They are bird-dogging presidential candidates such as Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker at rallies and town halls, trying to dissuade them from making politically convenient pro-ethanol pledges to get votes in corn country. Their message: biofuels are driving environmental harms, from disappearing wetlands to algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico.

As Democratic 2020 candidates flock to Iowa this July 4 — Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and Joe Biden will be there — biofuel foes are challenging conventional wisdom that ethanol support is untouchable in Iowa.

So far, their efforts aren’t working.

At least nine presidential candidates made pilgrimages to ethanol factories in Iowa so far this year — including President Donald Trump, who visited the Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy facility in Council Bluffs on June 11.

Former Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke toured the Big River Renewables LLC ethanol plant in West Burlington two days after announcing his bid. New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio praised biofuels as good for the planet at a POET Biorefining plant in Gowrie in May. On Tuesday, Representative Tim Ryan stopped by the Golden Grain Energy LLC ethanol facility in Mason City.

Showing love for ethanol is part of the political script in Iowa. “You’ve got to get a picture in a corn field, if you can find one, and you have to have the picture with an ethanol plant and then you’ve got to have the picture with the corn dog,” said Chad Hart, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University in Ames.

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