There are a few sacred cows in midwestern politics — fried foods, state fairs, manufacturing jobs — but lately, the most untouchable of them has been ethanol: ensuring that the fuel made from midwestern corn continues to be pumped into cars around the country.
On paper, President Donald Trump should be loath to mess with ethanol: He won the White House on the strength of a strong performance in farm country. Of the country’s top ten ethanol-producing states, only two — Minnesota and Illinois — did not break for Trump.
As president, however, Trump sent mixed signals on his fealty to a key aspect of ethanol policy, the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, which determines the amount of ethanol that must be blended into the nation’s fuel supply.
Trump and certain deputies, like Secretary of Agriculture nominee Sonny Perdue and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, have publicly stated their support of maintaining the RFS. But wary farm advocates are looking past those statements and into troubling hints that the Trump era could bring major changes to a policy that’s proven a significant boon to their business.
Some key advisers around Trump have it out for the RFS — in particular, billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who Trump admires and looks to for advice on economic issues. Icahn and others in the oil industry are eyeing a rule change to the RFS that appears minor but that could have significant effects on the business of ethanol in the U.S., if not undo the industry altogether.
An activist investor — and advisor?
Since its birth in 2005 as part of the Energy Policy Act, the RFS has…
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