candidate Amy Klobuchar tours Lincolnway Energy

Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar tours Lincolnway Energy in Nevada, Iowa, last month. Renewable fuels advocates use Iowa’s position as an early campaign stop to educate candidates.

NEVADA, Iowa — As sales jobs go, this wasn’t an especially difficult one. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar is from Minnesota, where ethanol is an important industry.

Still, Klobuchar’s April tour of Lincolnway Energy in Nevada, Iowa, was just one example of how biofuel producers are working to educate candidates in the months leading up to the 2020 presidential elections.

Klobuchar is one of 20 Democrats to declare their intentions to pursue her party’s presidential nomination. In the months leading up to the 2016 election, a similarly crowded Republican field was roaming the state of Iowa, and biofuel leaders worked to get many of those candidates to tour biofuel facilities as well.

“It provides a wonderful opportunity for education,” explains Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. “It allows us to have conversations.”

The conversation during this tour had quite a bit to do with the waivers the federal Environmental Protection Agency has been granting to refineries — a sore spot to those who make a living producing biofuels.

“Basically, the waiver has taken everything E15 (the granting of year-round use of 15 percent ethanol blends of fuel) gave us,” said Bill Couser, a Nevada farmer and one of the founders of Lincolnway Energy.

Couser, who hosted former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt on his farm in 2017, said Pruitt told farmers all the right things while in Iowa but then went back to Washington, D.C., and began handing out waivers.

That served as a reminder to Couser that sometimes a promise from a politician needs to be specific. And Patty Judge, a Democrat and former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, said that face-to-face meetings with candidates are useful.

“We have a lot of candidates coming to Iowa right now,” Judge said. “We want people to be honest with us.”

During her tour and a panel session with farmers and representatives of the ethanol plant, Klobuchar said that as a Minnesota senator she has always been supportive of ethanol and biodiesel. She reminded the group that this wasn’t the first ethanol plant she had visited. And she called the waivers granted by the EPA “outrageous.”

Klobuchar said she thought those waivers were going to stop once Pruitt left the EPA, but that hasn’t been the case.

Meanwhile, Shaw said leaders of the biofuel industry will work to educate all of the Democratic presidential candidates about the biofuel industry, just as it worked to educate Republicans last presidential election cycle.

While industry leaders would love to have every candidate pledge to support ethanol and biodiesel, Shaw said he doesn’t need to use any strong-arm tactics.

“We’ve got a great story to tell,” he said. Once candidates tour a plant and learn about the industry, the idea sells itself, he said.

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Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.