Last week Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland jumped in front of the ethanol issue and declared himself in opposition to the Obama Administration's flagging support for turning South Dakota corn into motor fuel. Weiland said the EPA, President Obama, and his own Democratic Party are caving to pressure from Big Oil, an impressive defense of South Dakota economic interests over party spin.
A week later, Marion Michael Rounds pauses between calls to his lawyers and EB-5 cronies and remembers he should be campaigning for Senate, too. He Facebooks from a Madison ag meeting to say Rick Weiland is right:
I share their frustration over the EPA's decision to scale back ethanol requirements in the Renewable Fuel Standard.
South Dakota business men and women invested significant amounts of money in the infrastructure to produce the ethanol needed to meet the standard. Now the EPA wants to change the rules midterm.
We should not allow them to pull the rug out from underneath Midwestern ethanol producers at this stage of the game. We need many different types of energy production. We need to make North America energy independent. Ethanol should play a role [M. Michael Rounds, Facebook post, 2013.11.18].
Note the difference in tone: Weiland comes out swinging, challenging the powers that be, including his own party leadership. Rounds wheezes milquetoasty pap about changing rules midstream, a position that disappears when we talk about the Affordable Care Act or any other program Republicans don't like. Rounds echoes the kind of dodgy response we hear when we ask budget hawks like Rep. Kristi Noem and Senator John Thune why we should keep spending money we don't have on porky projects like the Lewis and Clark water system.
Both Weiland and Rounds are angling for farm votes, perhaps at the expense of wise environmental and long-term economic sustainability. But at least Weiland is saying it like he means it. Rounds's response is cautiously, politically tuned and far from a firm defense of ethanol itself as good economic policy.