Nevada cattleman co-chairing caucus-season RFS coalition

Prominent Nevada cattleman Bill Couser is co-chairing a new nonprofit group organized to educate presidential candidates on the importance of the Renewable Fuel Standard, a federal regulation setting the minimum amount of renewable fuel that transportation fuel sold in the U.S. is blended with each year.

The bipartisan, 501(c)(4) coalition, America’s Renewable Future, was unveiled at a Capitol news conference Thursday headlined by Gov. Terry Branstad that made national news.

His son, Eric, is co-directing the group with Derek Eadon, who served as state director for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

A farmer, ethanol plant founder and past president of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Couser is one of four chairs of the coalition.

“We’re going to have candidates in here that want to repeal the RFS,” said Couser, a Republican. “We want to show them and explain to them how important it is to our state and our economy and our nation and our security.”

He shares chairmanship of the group with former Republican state Rep. Annette Sweeney and Patty Judge, who previously served as Iowa’s secretary of agriculture and lieutenant governor.

A fourth co-chair, who will be a Democrat, has yet to be announced.

The announcement of the coalition came just before today’s Iowa Freedom Summit, a high-profile event co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, who represents Ames.

The event features more than a dozen potential 2016 presidential contenders. Some, such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Rick Perry, a Terry Branstad ally, have voiced opposition to the RFS.

As of Friday, Sweeney planned to attend the summit, Eric Branstad said.

He said America’s Renewable Future’s funders had already committed $2 million to the coalition, which will cover operating expenses, and plans to attract “many other partners” as its multi-million-dollar campaign gets underway.

The top three current funders, Branstad said, are the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy, a pro-ethanol group based in Washington, D.C.

Citing figures from a 2014 study commissioned by agribusiness coalition Fuels America to stress the importance of the RFS to Iowa’s economy, Branstad said Iowa’s renewable fuel industry supported more than 73,000 jobs and $19.3 billion annually in economic output.

The RFS is strongly supported in Iowa, but opponents see it as government-mandated market interference and often oppose it on ideological grounds. Others question whether corn-based ethanol and similar fuels are really as renewable as proponents claim because of the amount of energy expended in their production.

America’s Renewable Future intends to keep the issue front and center through the Iowa caucuses in early 2016.

“We are modeling our campaign to look like a presidential campaign,” Branstad said. “Our candidate is going to be the RFS. We are going to be out talking to caucus-goers and we are going to be talking to candidates, educating them on exactly what the RFS is and hopefully help inform and begin their RFS policy.”

The coalition is looking forward to Iowa agribusiness entrepreneur Bruce Rastetter’s inaugural Iowa Agriculture Summit, scheduled for March 7 at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Rastetter has invited at least two dozen potential presidential contenders, both Democrats and Republicans, to attend the event.

“You look at the grassroots of this country that’s actually going to stand out there and talk to these people, we’re in the trenches every day, and we’ve lived it, and we’ve dreamed it,” Couser said. “We understand the importance of what that means to our economy and our state and nation’s security and long-term energy independence.”

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