With polls showing Republican candidate Joni Ernst with a slight lead over Democrat Bruce BraleyBruce Lowell BraleyThe Memo: Trump attacks on Harris risk backfiring 2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster OPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP MORE in the Iowa senate race, the Democrats are anxious to ensure a Braley victory. On Friday, they brought in First Lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause Biden, Obamas and celebrity guests announce coronavirus vaccination TV special Obamas describe meeting Prince Philip in statement mourning his death MORE, who remains more popular than her husband, to stump for the Democrat.

One can overlook the fact that Mrs. Obama repeatedly called the candidate “Bailey” until being corrected by the audience. The real story is that desperate Democrats are doing everything in their power in Iowa and other states to keep the U.S. Senate under their control. With active cronyism between ethanol industry representatives and the White House, an October Surprise to keep Iowa in the blue column is rumored.


This surprise would be an increase in the amount of ethanol required to be blended into gasoline this year. And it could be just the ticket to get Iowa ethanol producers and corn farmers, who are harvesting a record-breaking crop, solidly behind the Democratic candidate. Their parochial gain would be everyone else's loss, economically and environmentally.

If the ethanol level in motor fuel is raised, it will break a pledge issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year. The EPA said it would consider reducing the amount of ethanol required in motor fuels because of the “blend wall,” the point at which refiners can add no additional corn-based fuel to gasoline without exceeding the safe 10 percent concentration limit.

The EPA was supposed to finalize and announce the 2014 ethanol requirement last fall, but the agency failed to issue the mandate. Now, with less than three months remaining in the year, refiners still don’t have the information they need to comply with federal law. 

This has set up refiners—and by extension motorists who purchase fuel—as potential victims of the tough political battle in Iowa, which has been called the state’s ugliest senate race in history. 

And evidence is mounting that the White House is planning to drop the ethanol bomb. On Oct. 8, Sens. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerBottom line Trump administration halting imports of cotton, tomatoes from Uighur region of China Biden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status MORE (D-Calif.) and Edward MarkeyEd MarkeyDemocratic Rep. Mondaire Jones calls on Breyer to retire Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents Progressives put Democrats on defense MORE (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the president claiming that a lower ethanol mandate would increase carbon dioxide emissions and allow “oil companies to escape obligations under the Clean Air Act.”

By playing the environmental-protection trump card and renewing their tirade against Big Oil, Boxer and Markey gave the White House exactly what it needed: The political cover to increase the ethanol mandate in 2014 and influence the Iowa election.

This political gamesmanship is hardly free. If the administration raises the 2014 ethanol mandate, everyone in the nation and around the world will pay that much more for transportation fuel—and displaced food.

Refiners could be forced to add more ethanol to motor fuels despite studies showing that ethanol concentrations above 10 percent can damage or destroy vehicles. Consumers could be on the hook for expensive auto repairs because their warranties will be voided by using ethanol-sodden fuels. And boat owners and farmers, in Iowa and elsewhere, who rely on non-ethanol fuels for marine engines and older tractors, might discover straight gasoline harder to find.

A higher ethanol mandate also would turn more food into fuel, putting upward pressure on grocery prices in the United States and limiting the amount of grain used to feed people around the globe. Studies by the European Union show food prices would be 50 percent lower in Europe by 2020 and 15 percent lower throughout the world without EU biofuel policy support. Research also shows there will not be enough food to feed the world’s populations by 2050 as long as food is diverted into fuel.

The costs of hunger, price hikes, and poorer transportation fuel might be worth it to an administration desperate to retain control over the U.S. Senate. Citizen voters nationwide, regardless of party affiliation, should decry any increase in the ethanol mandate for 2014—and beyond. Cronyism and political bribes are no solution for a democracy in deficit.

Bradley is CEO of the Institute for Energy Research, a free-market research and analysis organization, and author of seven books on energy history and public policy. He blogs at www.masterresource.org.