Weekend open thread: Outrages of the week

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread. Here are a few links to get a conversation started.

A Polk County district court ruling related to one of Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s pet projects called attention to the fact that Schultz was in Switzerland for the American Swiss Foundation’s 24th annual Young Leaders Conference, a weeklong event. Whether the secretary of state should attend a foreign junket like this at any time is debatable. But it’s ridiculous for him to have planned to be out of town when Iowa’s 99 county auditors were gathering in Des Moines to discuss election-related issues. The Iowa Democratic Party and the only declared Democratic candidate for secretary of state blasted Schultz. I’ve posted their comments below, along with the official defense from the Iowa Secretary of State’s spokesman.

Speaking of Schultz’s pet projects, here’s some important news from last month: the federal judge who wrote a key ruling upholding Indiana’s voter ID law now believes he got that case wrong.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday that it is proposing to alter the Renewable Fuel Standard on how much ethanol must be blended into gasoline. The announcement upset Iowa elected officials from both parties. After the jump I’ve posted statements from Governor Terry Branstad, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, and all of the Iowans in Congress except for Representative Tom Latham (R, IA-03), who has not commented on this issue to my knowledge.

The Associated Press reported this week on how the push to produce corn-based ethanol has damaged the environment in Iowa and elsewhere.

One last outrage: Will Potter reported for Mother Jones about a case that “could make it harder for journalists and academics to keep tabs on government agencies.” The FBI is going to court to prevent its “most prolific” Freedom of Information Act requester from accessing hundreds of thousands of pages of documents.

Statement from Brad Anderson, Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of State, November 14:

Des Moines, IA — Today the Des Moines Register has revealed that while our 99 county auditors gather in Des Moines and our municipal elections continue across the state, our chief elections officer, Secretary of State Matt Schultz, is in Switzerland on a junket that includes visits to “a Formula 1 auto-racing test center and a daylong ‘excursion’ to the Mout Rigi vacation area and the Rigi Kaltbad Mineral Baths & Spa.”  Link the Register story here.


“This week I have had the pleasure of meeting with county auditors from across the state to get their ideas on ways we can modernize our elections and save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in the process.  With all of our local elections officials in Des Moines this week, it’s a shame Matt Schultz decided to skip town and take a junket to Switzerland.  Our bipartisan local election officials are on the front lines and have terrific ideas on ways we run elections more efficiently while enhancing the integrity of the process.  While he will try to find ways to defend this trip, the truth is Secretary Schultz would have learned a lot more from our local auditors this week than he did on his Swiss junket.”

Excerpt from an Iowa Democratic Party press release of November 14:

“Instead of focusing on his job here at home – counting votes and working with his colleagues to discuss Iowa’s election laws and new innovations to make our elections more efficient and to increase participation, our state’s chief elections officer is in Switzerland soaking up a mineral bath and enjoying luxurious travel throughout the Swiss Alps,” said Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Troy Price. “Matt Schultz needs to reevaluate his priorities on what it means to ‘advocate for the integrity of the election process,’ return from Switzerland and start paying attention to his job here in Iowa.”

Jason Noble reported for the Des Moines Register,

Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Chance McElhaney said Thursday that Schultz was selected for the conference “based on his outstanding public service,” and emphasized the interactions he would have with “diplomatic, government, business, media and cultural leaders.”

“While Switzerland does have beautiful scenery that I’m sure they are eager to show off, this conference is an important business trip, regardless of what partisan political operatives may say,” McElhaney said in a statement.

No taxpayer funds were spent on the trip, and Schultz paid for a portion of it himself, McElhaney added. Several of his staffers, meanwhile, have attended the auditors’ meeting in Des Moines.

The conference and air travel to it are paid for by corporate and private sponsors. This year’s conference is hosted by Holcim, a Swiss asphalt and concrete company with operations in Des Moines and the Quad Cities.

Statement from Governor Terry Branstad’s office, November 15:

Branstad, Reynolds issue statements on 2014 RFS requirements

November 15, 2013

(DES MOINES) – Gov. Terry E. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds today vowed to join agricultural groups, family farmers and all Iowans in fighting for renewable fuels in light of the misguided and dumbfounding decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lower the volumes of renewable fuels utilized on America’s streets and highways.

“Why the Obama administration would side with the big oil companies over Iowa’s homegrown renewable fuels is baffling,” said Branstad. “The EPA has turned its back on rural America, and our economy and family farms will suffer as a result. Corn prices have already dropped to the cost of production, and this will likely further squeeze corn producers and negatively impact income growth in rural America. We have more than 50 ethanol and biodiesel plants in Iowa, and these EPA reductions would negatively impact thousands of Iowa jobs. This debate isn’t over. I will lock arms with our agricultural groups, our family farmers, leaders from both parties, and Iowans in fighting for Iowa’s homegrown, reliable, and safe renewable fuels. I encourage Iowans to officially comment to the EPA.”

“The Renewable Fuels Standard led to more consumer choice at the pump, widespread use of biofuels, less reliance on foreign oil, increased family incomes in rural America, and a commitment to reducing harmful emissions,” said Reynolds. “Today’s announcement undercuts the progress that has been made. This is the latest example of just how out of touch Washington, D.C. has become that big oil is rewarded for bad behavior.”

Statement from Senator Chuck Grassley, November 15:

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa made the following comment after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard volume requirements.  The proposed rule released by the EPA lowers the required consumption of conventional renewable fuel to 13.01 billion gallons, despite the law mandating consumption of 14.4 billion gallons, and below the 2013 level of 13.8 billion gallons.  It also provides that biodiesel remains at 1.28 billion gallons.  (Click here to read the letter Grassley sent to the EPA with 31 colleagues on the biodiesel regulations.)  The proposed rules are now open for public comment.  Grassley encourages Iowans to make comments at http://www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels/…

“The federal government made a commitment to homegrown, renewable energy when Congress passed the Renewable Fuel Standard.  The proposed rules released by the Environmental Protection Agency undermine that commitment.  These misguided rules could cost jobs and create dirtier air, while protecting the stranglehold Big Oil has on the country’s fuel supply.  It’s disappointing that a President who claimed to be a supporter of renewable energy has allowed his administration to take us a step back in lessening our reliance on foreign sources of oil.  It’s time for supporters of clean, homegrown, green energy and forward-thinking energy policy to rally and let the Obama administration know that its proposal is short-sighted and irresponsible.”

Commentary Grassley’s office distributed to the media, presumably for publication as a guest editorial:

Assault on Ethanol Misses Its Mark

by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

As its market share dips, Big Oil is doubling down to swat down its perennial piñata.  This time around, petroleum producers and food conglomerates are using environmental groups as political cover to gain traction on efforts to pull the plug on the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).

Despite the ridiculously transparent and self-serving assault by these special interest groups, the relentless campaign to discredit ethanol undermines America’s longstanding efforts to diversify its energy landscape, fuel the economy and strengthen national security.

The predictable efforts to smear ethanol’s reputation ignore the renewable fuel’s valuable contributions to clean energy, rural development, job creation and U.S. energy independence.  The latest round of misguided untruths disregards the plain truth. Ethanol is a renewable, sustainable, clean-burning fuel that helps run the nation’s transportation fleet with less pollution.  Yet, critics continue to hide behind distortions that claim ethanol is bad for the environment.

Let’s talk turkey and separate fact from fiction regarding ethanol’s impact on the environment.

Critics say farmers are putting fragile land into production to cash in on higher corn prices at the expense of soil erosion and clean water.  They point out that five million Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres are no longer enrolled in the conservation program since 2008.  They want to pin the blame on ethanol.

First of all, fewer acres enrolled in the CRP has more to do with federal belt tightening than land stewardship decisions by America’s corn farmers.  The 2008 farm bill built upon other stewardship incentives for America’s farmers and ranchers administered by the USDA, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, wetlands restoration and wildlife habitat programs.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), no new grassland has been converted to cropland since 2005.

Fact:    The Wetlands Reserve Program in 2012 had a record-breaking enrollment of 2.65 million acres.  WRP lands cannot be farmed for 30 years.

Farmers must make marketing, planting and stewardship decisions that keep their operation financially sound and productive from crop year to crop year.  Even more importantly, these decisions must be environmentally sustainable for the long haul.  Let’s be clear.  Farmers simply can’t afford not to take scrupulous care of the land that sustains their livelihoods.

Fact:    Fertilizer use is on the decline.  Compare application per bushel in 1980 versus 2010 – nitrogen is down 43 percent; phosphate is down 58 percent; and, potash is down 64 percent.

Fact:    Ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline.  According to the Argonne National Laboratory, corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent compared to gasoline.  If the oil industry wants to talk about the environment, let’s not forget the 1989 Exxon Valdez and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spills.

Critics also say the RFS is driving more acres into corn production.  In reality, the RFS is driving significant investment in higher-yielding, drought-resistant seed technology.  This is a win-win scenario to cultivate good-paying jobs and to harvest better yields on less land.

Fact:    The total cropland planted to corn in the United States is decreasing.  In 2013, U.S. farmers planted 97 million corn acres.  In the 1930s, farmers planted 103 million acres of corn.  Farmers have increased the corn harvest through higher yields, not more acres.

Critics contend the nation’s corn crop is diverted for fuel use at the expense of feed for livestock and higher prices at the grocery store.

Fact:    In reality, the value of corn increases during ethanol production.  One-third of the corn processed to make ethanol re-enters the marketplace as high value animal feed called dried distillers grain.  Livestock feed remains the largest end-user of corn.  When co-products such as dried distillers grains are factored in, ethanol consumes only 27 percent of the whole corn crop by volume; livestock feed uses 50 percent of the crop.

Fact:    The USDA Secretary has said farmers receive about 14 cents of every food dollar spent at the grocery store.  And, the farmer’s share of a $4 box of corn flakes is about 10 cents.

So what’s at stake when a coalition of special interests tag teams to pull the rug out from underneath the nation’s ethanol policy?

Unfortunately, these flawed attacks on ethanol and next-generation biofuels undermine America’s effort to move forward with an aggressive, diversified energy policy that takes into account global demand, geopolitics and U.S. economic growth.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Statement from Senator Tom Harkin, November 15:

Harkin Reacts to EPA’s 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard Targets

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), a strong proponent of the renewable fuel standard (RFS), released the following statement after learning of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed biofuel volume requirements for 2014 under the RFS.  

“The RFS passed during the Bush administration calls for steadily increasing contributions from biofuels in our transportation fuels markets to enhance our nation’s energy security, protect the environment, and create jobs.  Up until now, the RFS has supported development of a strong, domestic biorefinery industry.   The 2014 targets released today, however, do just the opposite.  They would cost thousands of current American jobs and undermine investments in advanced biofuels just as they are beginning to bear fruit.

“We are not at the end of this fight for homegrown renewable fuels.  These numbers are only projections or proposals.  As I have urged the White House, EPA should increase these targets because they ignore the clear intent of the law as well as our nation’s capacity both to produce and utilize renewable fuels.  In the coming weeks, I will work with my colleagues to get these biofuels targets increased and thus reaffirm the purpose of this renewable fuel standard.”

Statement from Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01):

Braley Statement on Proposed EPA Rule to Roll Back the Renewable Fuel Standard

Washington, DC – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) today issued the following statement after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposed rule that would reduce the renewable volume obligations (RVOs) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). This comes a month after the EPA leaked a draft document of the proposed rule that would severely damage the renewable energy industry.

“The administration should be working every day to create jobs and strengthen the economy. Yet the EPA’s proposed rule does just the opposite.

“Renewable fuels are a vital component of domestic energy production and they reduce our dependence on foreign oil. In Iowa, investment and innovation in renewable energy continues to grow, and these investments have helped create over 60,000 jobs and contribute 4 percent of Iowa’s GDP every year.

“Under the proposed reduction in the Renewable Fuels Standard, growth in Iowa’s renewable energy industry stands to suffer, putting job growth at risk and threatening damage to Iowa’s economy.”

Statement from Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02):

VIDEO: Loebsack Statement on Devastating Cut to RFS

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement today after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the renewable fuel volume obligations (RVOs) under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) for 2014.

“It is clear that this Administration has done a complete 180 on their support for biofuels. Today’s announcement is a devastating decision for Iowa’s farmers, rural communities and economy. It will also only increase our dependence on foreign oil at the expense of homegrown fuel. It is a slap in the face to our homegrown industry and Iowa’s economy that once again Big Oil has dictated our energy policy while stomping on rural America and hampering efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. I believe in making things in America and there is no reason our fuels shouldn’t be made here as well.

“The numbers for renewable fuel and biodiesel released by the EPA are completely unacceptable and I will fight to ensure that Iowa farmers are able to continue move our nation on a sustainable path forward.”

A link to a video of Loebsack’s reaction to today’s announcement can be found here.

Statement from Representative Steve King (R, IA-04), November 15:

November 15, 2013                                                                                                                    Office: 202.225.4426

King’s Remarks on the EPA’s RVO Proposal

Washington, DC – Congressman Steve King released the following statement after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the 2014 Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), Renewable Volume Guidelines (RVO) numbers today. The EPA has proposed new lowered RFS requirements as follows: 14.4 billion gallons to 13 billion gallons of conventional renewable fuel, and the total RFS volumetric requirement from 18.15 billion gallons to 15.21 billion gallons.

“We should promote competition within the United States fuel industry,” said King. “The RFS is the only tool that provides market access so that ethanol and other renewable fuels can be sold in competition with petroleum. Today’s EPA announcement indicates a shift in the Obama Administration away from renewable fuels and in favor of foreign and domestic petroleum. Ethanol is the only fuel produced in large enough volume to compete with what has been a 100% petroleum mandate. It is disappointing the EPA has decided to lower RFS numbers and make the United States more dependent on foreign sources of energy when we have the means to produce cleaner, greener fuels right here in America.

Through the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), Congress promised the federal government would provide market access up to the RFS levels provided the renewable fuels industry produces the necessary fuel. At that time, the oil industry claimed the ethanol industry would not be able to produce the fuel necessary to meet RFS goals. They were wrong. This year the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is projecting American farmers will harvest the largest corn crop in history. We have sufficient supplies to more than meet all needs for corn, including supply for the ethanol market. For most of 2013, ethanol has been the cheapest fuel on the market, BTU to BTU, significantly driving down the price of gasoline. Today’s EPA decision sends a strong negative message to the renewable fuels industry that has, so far, responded reliably to government and market signals.”

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