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EDITORIAL: Trump attacks DeSantis for standing up to the corn lobby

Former President Donald Trump inadvertently made a pitch for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Both men are running for president and have been campaigning in Iowa, the first caucus state in the Republican presidential primary. Iowa is also the top corn-producing state in the country. That has led Mr. Trump to attack Gov. DeSantis over his past opposition to corn-based ethanol mandates.

“Ending the Renewable Fuel Standard was one of his top priorities,” Mr. Trump said of Gov. DeSantis recently. “As a member of Congress, he wanted to end it.”

That’s true. Gov. DeSantis once proposed an amendment to repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard Program, which mandates a certain amount of fuel be renewable. That includes ethanol, which is a type of biofuel, made from plants such as corn. It can be added to fossil fuels. A mixture of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent fossil fuels reduces fuel efficiency by around 3 percent. It probably wouldn’t have been a competitive option without government tipping the scales in its favor.

In 2005, Congress first mandated that renewable fuel replace some of the conventional fuel supply. It expanded the requirement in 2007. It has been around ever since. In 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency required the production of 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol.

More than 40 percent of the country’s corn supply goes toward producing fuel, not food. That supports a wide swath of jobs in farming and production. But studies show it does little to reduce carbon emissions.

If this sounds like a boondoggle, you’re right. Ethanol mandates have artificially raised prices on drivers in Nevada and other states to benefit Iowa farmers all while distorting the agriculture marketplace even further. If it were cost-effective, it wouldn’t need a taxpayer subsidy.

If Iowa didn’t have disproportionate influence in presidential politics, this mandate may have died long ago. It’s a clear example of a harmful government intrusion in the marketplace. Some environmental groups have soured on the scheme, too. It was once touted as a way to reduce carbon emissions, but some greens now complain it has led farmers to plant on millions of acres to meet demand and isn’t low-carbon enough.

But most major presidential candidates, in both parties, dutifully proclaim their support for ethanol in a transparent bid to curry favor in Iowa. Mr. Trump’s attack on his chief opponent unintentionally implies that Gov. DeSantis has put principle over political expediency. Gov. DeSantis should show voters he continues to hold the courage of his convictions.

Opposing ethanol mandates may not play well in Iowa, but it should be a common-sense position in the rest of the country.

This commentary originally appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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