If you're going to Mitchell for DakotaFest today to watch Matt Varilek crush Rep. Kristi Noem in their first face-to-face debate, here's a good question to submit to the candidates: "Do you support suspending the ethanol mandate of the Renewable Fuels Standard to increase corn supply and lower prices for food and livestock feed?"
If Stephanie Herseth Sandlin were participating in today's debate, her answer would be No:
Thanks to the RFS and related policies, the advanced and cellulosic biofuels industry has gone from a science experiment to a job-creating industry in the very communities now hit by the drought. Billions of dollars have been invested by the private sector, and steel is going in the ground in rural America right now. Undermining the RFS, or even creating uncertainty around its future, would put the future of those investments, jobs and communities in question.
Granting any waiver based solely on political expediency would be inappropriate. Indeed, that would pile disaster upon disaster for the very communities suffering from the drought, putting us on a path of undoing the RFS's work longer-term. If our priority is helping rural America and continuing to enhance our energy security, we must prioritize protecting the RFS [Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Tom Ewing, "Leave the Renewable Fuels Standard Alone," Politico, August 21, 2012].
Matt Varilek and Kristi Noem have both expressed support for ethanol, though Noem didn't fight hard enough to continue funding for ethanol blender pumps in the stalled House Farm Bill, and she supported a compromise measure ending tax credits for ethanol producers. But in this case, they must balance ag against ag: ethanol helps corn growers, but it's putting drought-stricken ranchers (and eaters) in a bind. Asking Varilek and Noem (and you, dear readers!) to weigh the ethanol fuel mandate against food and livestock feed is a great way to test the candidates' ability to make hard policy choices. Citizen Herseth Sandlin has made her choice clear; how about you, Matt and Kristi?