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Fierce Post-Election Fight Erupts Over Corn Ethanol

A battle over corn ethanol is heating up as Donald Trump prepares to take charge of the nation’s energy policies.

Critics of ethanol mandates released a survey this week that they say proves environmental groups have soured on corn for fuel, and they predicted a Trump administration will roll back the use of corn in ethanol.

Renewable fuel advocates said that forecast is premature.

“There’s only one direction for the Trump administration to go,” said Matt Dempsey, a public affairs consultant working on behalf of the American Council for Capital Formation, a pro-business group opposed to ethanol mandates.

With a revamp of the renewable fuel standard gaining advocates with the incoming president, Dempsey said, “the only loser here would be Big Corn.”

The ACCF survey showed that 70 percent of “environmentally conscious” voters, including staff for environmental organizations, would like to see significant reductions in the amount of corn-based ethanol mandated for use in the fuel supply.

In addition, 80 percent of respondents who work for environmental or conservation groups said they would like to see the renewable fuel standard put more emphasis on advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, the group said.

The poll was based on a survey of 1,000 environmentally conscious voters, the ACCF said.

To critics of ethanol, the change of administration breaks a pact between environmental groups and the Obama administration — which those groups saw as an ally generally — not to actively attack the RFS’s reliance on corn.

“Now, with Obama out, I think the environmental community can be more vocal,” Dempsey said.

In addition to the survey, a coalition of poultry industry groups and other corn ethanol critics launched an advertising effort urging that the policy — which diverts away corn for feed — be scaled back.

The public relations push comes as U.S. EPA prepares to announce renewable fuel volumes for 2017, possibly as early as this week, lobbyists tracking the agency said.

Ethanol allies said they see hope in the Trump campaign’s positive statements about the RFS. Among other comments, Trump said that the RFS encourages energy independence and that he would urge caution in changing it, said Emily Skor, chief executive officer of Growth Energy, a corn ethanol advocacy group.

“These clear commitments underscore the new administration’s understanding of homegrown American energy and energy independence, and we look forward to building a constructive relationship to ensure the RFS continues to succeed,” Skor said.

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