That’s how much later Utah’s first caucuses are than Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, which begin Feb. 1, 2016. And that’s why most presidential candidates are going out of their way to keep Iowa’s special interests happy, even if it hurts hardworking Utahns in the process.
One issue in particular stands out: the Renewable Fuel Standard. The RFS is a 2005 federal mandate that requires fuel refiners to blend biofuels — primarily corn-based ethanol — into gasoline.
It’s a big deal in Iowa, which produces much of the ethanol the rest of us are forced to use, despite higher costs and dubious benefits.
The RFS amounts to a regressive gas tax. It harms low- and middle-class families in Utah and across the country by driving up the cost of gasoline and pushing down total miles per gallon. And despite its intentions, it actually harms the environment.
Consider the RFS’ effect on gas prices. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated the RFS could raise prices at the pump by 13 to 27 cents per gallon by 2017, with diesel increasing by 30 to 51 cents. With Utah gas prices averaging around $3 per gallon today, the RFS could raise them by close to 10 percent or more.
This comes at a bad time for Utahns. Affordable gasoline has offered a lifeline to households currently struggling to make ends meet, providing the equivalent of a $700 tax cut per family since last June. The RFS will reverse this much-needed reprieve.
Making matters worse is that ethanol has a lower fuel economy than gasoline. So as the RFS requires increasingly more ethanol to be blended into your gas, it decreases the distance each gallon will take you. The result is more trips to the gas station and less money in your pocket.
And while the RFS was passed on promises that it would be environmentally friendly, in practice it has been anything but. When factoring in the additional farming and refining ethanol requires, the World Resources Institute found it does more harm than good.
Which begs the question: If the RFS is all pain and no gain, why would presidential candidates support it? Perhaps because Iowa’s presidential caucuses, the first in the nation, come well before Utah’s primaries — which supposedly makes their interests more important than ours.
The ethanol special interests in Iowa and Washington, D.C., are already betting the farm to keep the RFS alive. Lobbyists at the Renewable Fuels Association recently launched a multimillion-dollar PR campaign they described as “the most aggressive issue advocacy effort people have ever seen in the history of the Iowa caucuses.” Their goal? To get White House hopefuls to support the RFS by dangling Iowa’s votes.
Of course, Congress could easily take this issue off the table by repealing the Renewable Fuel Standard on its own. Half measures, such as legislation to repeal only the corn mandate, would make America’s energy policy resemble California’s, where gas prices are far and away the highest in the nation.
Americans may wish we had California’s sunshine, but we don’t need its high gas prices. The only acceptable solution is to repeal the mandate entirely. U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has already introduced legislation that would do just that. Utahns should encourage their members of Congress to join him in passing it without delay.
Meanwhile, instead of focusing on how to get votes in just one state, presidential candidates should focus on what's good for the whole country. With the primaries and caucuses still nine months away, there’s plenty of time to make sure the RFS gets the national attention it deserves. Opposing it should be an easy decision for principled candidates who side with American families over special interests.
Charles Drevna is a senior fellow with the American Energy Alliance. Before this, he was president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and is an expert in that field.