Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did not change his position on the federal ethanol subsidy and federal renewable fuel standard while speaking last weekend to nearly 1,000 farmers in first-caucus state Iowa, his spokesman said Monday.
“He has been opposed to mandates and continues to be opposed to mandates,” the spokesman, Kirsten Kukowski, told the New Hampshire Journal. “What he said in Iowa was that he wouldn’t come and repeal the renewable fuel standard on day one, but work to phase it out because people rely on the certainty surrounding it, and we need to work on access issues.”
Walker’s answer and how it was perceived is important not only in Iowa, but also in New Hampshire. The ethanol subsidy and renewable fuel standard is not a cutting issue in the Granite State, certainly, but when a candidate is accused of, or characterized in several media accounts as, “shifting position,” – or a flip-flop — to appease a certain audience with a particular point of view, it raises an overriding credibility question which the candidate should have an opportunity to address.
Walker last week acknowledged up front he had changed his position on immigration, saying, “My view has changed. I’m flat out saying it. Candidates can say that, sometimes they don’t.” And while in 2013, he said he could support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, he no longer felt that way and said he opposes what he called “amnesty.”
On ethanol and the renewable fuel standard, Walker he was reported to have said in 2006, while running for governor, regarding the ethanol standard, “a big government mandate is not the way to support the farmers of this state.”
And last weekend he said he is “willing to go forward on continuing the renewable fuel standard” while addressing “market access issues” with a goal of “eventually, you didn’t need to have a standard.”
Several accounts, including by media outlets in his home state, reported that Walker was “shifting his position” or “shifting his stance” on ethanol and renewable fuels. One account reported outright that he “reversed his position.”
“No,” said Kukowski, “we don’t agree with that characterization. He’s against mandates and he’s said as much then and now. He didn’t specifically address the renewable fuel standard in the past and is now saying that we need to get rid of it, but be smart about it.”
At the “Ag Summit,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unequivocally supported the “RFS,” which for the past decade has required that transportation fuels include a minimum amount of renewable energy, such as corn-based ethanol, in the blend.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, was unequivocal in his opposition. “The answer you’d like me to give is, ‘I’m for the RFS,’ darn it. That would be the easy thing to do,” he said. “But I tell you, people are pretty fed up, I think, with politicians that run around and tell one group one thing and tell another group another thing.” Cruz visits New Hampshire on Sunday.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who had been opposed to a renewable fuel standard in the past, appeared more favorable toward it now, saying, “I don’t think you pull the RFS out and discriminate against the RFS and leave all these other subsidies,” a reference to subsidies for the oil industry. But he also said he would rather see no federal mandate and allow states to decide whether ethanol should be used in gasoline. Perry will be back in New Hampshire on Thursday.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who will make his first visit to New Hampshire in 15 years on Friday, espoused a position similar to Walker’s. He told the farmers group he believes the standards should remain intact for now, but should eventually be phased out — he did not say over how long of a period of time.
Bush was quoted as having said, “I would suggest to you that ultimately, whether it’s ethanol or any other alternative fuel, renewable or otherwise, the markets ultimately are going to decide this. At some point we’ll see a reduction of the RFS need because ethanol will be such a valuable part of the energy piece of our country. Whether that’s 2022 or sometime in the future I don’t know.”
Walker’s full answer, according to a transcript of his exchange in Iowa, was:
“Well we’ve talked about this before. In general, on any issue, I’m someone who believes in a free and open market. I don’t like a whole lot of government interference. That applies to a whole lot of areas, not the least of which is the EPA with things like navigable waters and other issues out there. I’ve fought those challenges at the state and local level as well.
“But I do believe — and we’ve talked about this before — it’s an access issue and so it’s something I’m willing to go forward on continuing the renewable fuel standard and pressing the EPA to make sure there’s certainty in terms of the blend levels set. So that going forward farmers know that when they’re making decisions about how to plant crops, what the process is. And one of the frustrations I know from a lot of folks is that you got an EPA that doesn’t send a clear standard on that.
“Now, long-term—we’ve talked about this before as well—my goal would be to get to a point where we directly address those market access issues and I think that’s a part of the challenge. So that eventually you didn’t need to have a standard just like you no longer need in the industry to have the subsidies that were there before to help insure we had a strong system. I think eventually you can get to that. But you can’t get to that unless you deal with market access.”
He noted Brazil has gas stations where “the consumer can make the choice as to what they want to do in terms of what blend they want, what sort of fuel choice they want. That’s ultimately the best way, to let the market decide, but right now we don’t have a free and open marketplace. So that’s why I’m willing to take that position.”
And in 2006, as a candidate for governor, Walker said specifically about federal ethanol requirements: “It is clear to me that a big government mandate is not the way to support the farmers of this state. The free enterprise system must drive innovation to relieve our dependence on foreign oil, not mandates from the state or federal government.”
In New Hampshire, Greg Moore, state director of the conservative issues group Americans for Prosperity, declined to wade into an analysis of how Walker or any of the prospective candidates answered the ethanol and renewable fuels standard question.
He did say that AFP nationally is “firmly opposed to ethanol subsidies” because it artificially drives up prices of many foods.
But he said, “When you actually go to an agriculture summit and into a room full of farmers, it’s a challenge to try to massage an answer that doesn’t box you in in the future.”
Moore noted that New Hampshire “does not have and has never had a singular issue that has driven a large bloc of voters. It’s not a state that is heavily subsidized by any particular federal policy. In New Hampshire, we tend to focus on the broader issues – entitlement spending, how do plan to close the budget deficit, repealing Obamacare and do you have a plan of your own.”