| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Feb 1 U.S. Republican presidential
candidate Ted Cruz's victory on Monday in corn-rich Iowa could
represent a major blow to the nation's controversial biofuels
program, reflecting its waning influence over politicians even
in the U.S. farm heartland.
The conservative senator from Texas and outspoken opponent
of the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, upset Republican
front-runner Donald Trump in the Iowa caucuses, the first of the
state-by-state battles to pick nominees for the Nov. 8 election
to succeed President Barack Obama.
Cruz won with 28 percent of the vote, compared with 24
percent for Trump, a billionaire businessman..
The result was a setback for corn farmers in the country's
biggest ethanol-producing state, who have lobbied hard to
protect the policy from being dismantled after more than a
The program requires the use of ethanol and other biofuels
in the nation's fuel supply, aimed at reducing U.S. dependence
on foreign oil, utilizing cleaner, domestic energy sources and
boosting rural economies.
Cruz now supports a phase-out of requirements for renewable
fuel, rather than the immediate repeal he was pushing for in
Still, winning Iowa without the backing of the ethanol and
corn lobby may raise doubts as to whether candidates still need
to garner its support in the long term, potentially removing a
big pillar of support for the lobby's agenda.
"The conversation inside of Congress in the morning will
change instantly, as Republicans realize they can be against the
mandate and still win," Michael McKenna, a Republican strategist
and energy lobbyist, said of a Cruz win.
RFS has come under heightened criticism from oil groups,
which say the volumes set by Congress are unachievable.
Environmentalists question the benefits of corn-based ethanol,
which represents the vast majority of an 18-billion-gallon
Attempts to reform or repeal the program have been
unsuccessful. A repeal amendment tacked onto a Senate energy
bill being considered this week is expected to be rejected, if
it even goes to a vote.
Iowa, the top ethanol-producing state, remains the
stronghold of support for the program. The industry accounts for
more than $4.9 billion, or 3.5 percent, of the state's gross
Ethanol has already broken into the transportation fuel
infrastructure, representing about 10 percent of blended
gasoline, and some experts said the majority of Iowa voters
still supported RFS.
Eric Branstad, Iowa director of the pro-RFS group, America's
Renewable Future, said on Monday night that although Cruz's
position would be devastating to the state's economy, "We feel
good about our results."
"The vast majority of our candidates and the vast majority
of caucus-goers realize the economic, national security, and
environmental benefits of the RFS," Branstad said in a
But Cruz's stance may open the door to legislative action,
which has proven tricky because the issue is so highly
McKenna said a Cruz victory increased the chances of reform
even in the next two years, something previously deemed
"If the RFS doesn't win in Iowa, where does it win?" said
Bruce Babcock, an economics professor at Iowa State University.
"It goes against what the Republican establishment has been
pushing for years."
(Reporting by Chris Prentice; Editing by Peter Cooney)