DYERSVILLE, Iowa — This week marked the third Democratic presidential candidate visit to a Dyersville biofuel facility, signaling the significance of the industry in the early political battleground of Iowa.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper spent Wednesday afternoon walking between boardrooms, silos and labs at Big River United Energy. Having founded and run breweries prior to his political career, he had some knowledge about producing alcohol.
“As a brewer, I understood fermentation and distillation,” Hickenlooper said. “But it’s a different thing to see it at scale like something like this. It’s 10% of the transportation fuel in this country. People don’t know how significant that is. It helps us be sustainable, fights climate change, but also it’s an injection of cash.”
Hickenlooper’s visit followed those by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who also are vying for the party’s nomination to challenge President Donald Trump in November 2020.
Three stops makes Big River one of the season’s most popular venues for this field of candidates. Plus, former U.S. Reps. Beto O’Rourke, of Texas, and John Delaney, of Maryland, have visited other Big River facilities.
“Our goal providing the tours is to educate,” said Jim Leiting, general manager of Big River Resources, LLC. “We’re not behind any one candidate. We want to educate them about what the ethanol industry is, the value to the Midwest and rural economies and the farmers who own these plants.”
Plant Manager Terry Manchester and former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge — now chairwoman of Focus On Rural America — joined Leiting in bending Hickenlooper’s ear about the various issues facing the industry.
They bemoaned the Trump administration continuing the Environmental Protection Agency’s policy of “rubber stamping” exemptions for refineries — even those owned by giant oil companies — allowing them to not blend ethanol.
“When you do a waiver and exempt someone, you eat into the target,” Leiting said. “I am not quite sure when Exxon-Mobile or Conoco-Phillips became small refineries. They’re saying, ‘We have these little refineries over here,’ but the mothership is Exxon.”
The group also laid on the environmental friendliness of ethanol when compared to conventional gasoline, dismissing criticism that it isn’t “green enough.”
Hickenlooper affirmed this, especially given the industry’s impact on local economies.
He touted his work as governor in charging a statewide $1 per month tax on cellphone service to pay for broadband in every community in Colorado.
“We’ve demonstrated that you don’t have to pick one or the other, (rural or urban),” Hickenlooper said. “A thin tax on a cell phone for someone in the suburbs. That’s how we paid for broadband. I tell people, ‘You’re paying a sliver of a tax to make sure we have strong economies where your food comes from.’ No one has ever complained.”