Gingrich speaks to Iowa Renewable Fuels group

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is just now taking the stage to speak to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association gathering in Des Moines, Iowa.  State Representative Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from the small rural town of Garner, delivered the introduction. telling the crowd Gingrich supported ethanol before it was cool.

Gingrich said he’d been talking with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad earlier today about the beginnings of the ethanol iindustry 27 years ago, when “they were talking about it as gasahol.”

Gingrich then mentioned two well-known Iowa politicians — Senator Grassley and former Congressman Jim Nussle — who were on a conference committee in 1998 when he was speaker and congress and the bill which passed “dramatically extended and strengthened the incentives” for ethanol.

“I taught environmental studies…so I had a real interest…in finding renewable fuels….to increase American energy production,” Gingrich said of his interest in gasahol/ethanol 27 years ago,.adding the energy crisis of the 1970s convinced him there’s a national security interest in developing home-grown fuels.

“If we kept $400 billion a year at home that is currently going out of the United States to buy energy, we would be dramatically better off,” Gingrich said. “And, frankly, I would rather have the next building boom in Des Moines than in Dubqi so I think we ought to have a policy that focuses on it.”

Gingrich told the crowd there’s a need to change the “attitude and psychology” of the U.S. govt…in order to “accelerate new ideas.”

Gingrich addressed the charge that ethanol is siphoning corn away from the food chain.  He said that was “just plain flat wrong.  It is factually untrue,” Gingrich said, to applause.

Gingrich said if anybody has created a problem with food on the planet, it is the European’s opposition to GMOs.  He suggested the Europeans “feel superior while poor people suffer.”

Gingrich told the crowd that “every time farmers start to do well (financially), somebody attacks them and it makes no sense…Why are we attacking the farmers for being productive?…We’re going to be able to meet the world’s food and fuel needs” by using modern science and technology.

The crowd applauded.  One man nearby the press riser said, “That’s right.”

Gingrich said he “big city attacks” of the ethanol industry are “nfuriating” because ethanol plans brings high-skill, high-paid jobs to rural communities.

“This matters in Georgia, too,” he said, mentioning the pine trees grown in his state for biofuel.

Gingrich called for new federal rules for automakers “to maximize development of flex-fuel cars. There is zero reason for the auto manufacturers not to produce flex-fuel cars…That ought to be the minimum demand for national security reasons…and consumer choice.”

He said the total extra cost per car is $100 for flex-fuel capability, and he wondered aloud why there was resistance to that modest cost. 

“There are powerful interests on the other side who are afraid of competition,” Gingrich said, answering his pondering.

Next up:  Gingrich said he had a “pretty bold” idea.  He proposed an ” Environmental Solutions Agency” to replace the Environmental Protection Agency.  The EPA is “really in many ways hostile to all new technology…hostile to the business community, hostile to the marketplace.”

Gingrich next mentioned the president’s State of the Union address tonight. “I wrote a book called, ‘Winning the Future,'” Gingrich said, mentioning that is to be a theme of Obama’s speech tonight.  “…I was hoping he had read my book.”  Gingrich said his newsletter tomorrow will compare what he said in the book with what Obama says tonight.  Gingrich said he hopes Obama will embrace “some cool things” tonight.

Gingrich, during a brief Q&A session, attacked a recent Wall Street Journal editorial which rapped ethanol as “just flat out wrong.”

“I don’t mind people having an honest argument about ideology, but they ought to at least use facts that are accurate,” Gingrich said. “…This is an interest group fight in which a number of very sophisticated, big interest groups have set up a myth and are busy actively propagating the myth, but the truth is it hurts the farmer.  It hurts rural America and it’s fundamentally unfair to America’s future.” Gingrich facts that are accurate.” 

After Gingrich finished, Upmeyer gave him what sounded like an endorsement for president.

UPDATE: During Q&A with reporters, Gingrich said he’ll announce his decision on a presidential race by March 1.  He also said if congress passes the flex-fuel requirement in all vehicles, there’s no need to maintain the federal tax credit for ethanol.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.