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Fact-checking claims in President Joe Biden’s visit to Iowa

President Joe Biden waves during his visit at the POET Bioprocessing ethanol plant in Menlo, Iowa, on April 12, 2022. (Grace Smith for The Daily Iowan) President Joe Biden waves during his visit at the POET Bioprocessing ethanol plant in Menlo, Iowa, on April 12, 2022. (Grace Smith for The Daily Iowan)

President Joe Biden waves during his visit at the POET Bioprocessing ethanol plant in Menlo, Iowa, on April 12, 2022. (Grace Smith for The Daily Iowan)

By Meg Doster April 13, 2022
By Eleanor Hildebrandt April 13, 2022
By Caleb McCullough April 13, 2022
By Lyle Muller April 13, 2022

Joe Biden’s April 12 appearance in the small western Iowa town of Menlo, population 345, dropped the president in a state that Donald Trump carried handily in the 2016 and 2020 elections. Rural development is a key need in Iowa, and biofuel production is a big financial deal because Iowa ranks tops in the country in producing biofuels.

It figured, then, that biofuel production was one of main topics Biden spoke about in Menlo, located just off Interstate 80 in a county that gave Trump two-thirds of its vote in the 2020 presidential election. Biden also touted his infrastructure plan that was passed and signed into law last year.

A review of his remarks reveals that Biden relied on federal and industry reports to stake claims while announcing that his Environmental Protection Agency would start allowing the sale of E15 gasoline – a blend that has 15% biofuels and 85% petroleum-based fuel – during summer months, starting this year.

Here is a look at some of Biden’s claims:

"Adding biofuel to gasoline reduces our reliance on foreign oil"

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that replacing fossil fuels with biofuels can reduce dependence on unstable foreign suppliers.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that the U.S. contributed to 20% of the world’s oil production in 2020 while also being responsible for 20% of the world’s consumption. Russia contributed 11%. That leaves 69% of the world’s oil supply produced by other countries.

Republicans in farm states like Iowa have assailed Biden for cutting the amount of gasoline the federal government requires to be mixed with plant-based biofuels. Democrats, too, have pushed for biofuels support, regardless of who is president. Iowa has a stake in fuel dependency, leading the nation in producing biofuels from farm crops, with the capacity to produce 4.6 billion gallons. That is double the 2.3 billion in the No. 2 state, Nebraska.

"Decisions this year by the Biden administration have shown the president clearly favors Big Oil interests over the interest of Iowa farmers," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a prepared statement ahead of Biden’s Iowa visit, in which Grassley called on Biden to allow summer sales of E15 fuel. 

Biden delivered on the summer sales, "The Environmental Protection Agency is planning to issue an emergency waiver to allow E15 gasoline that uses more ethanol from home-grown crops to be sold across the United States this summer in order to increase fuel supplies." 

E15 sales have been prohibited from June 1 to Sept. 15 in some states because some researchers believe it contributes to poor air quality during that time. Iowa Attorney Tom Miller, a Democrat, and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, and a bipartisan collection of government and industry leaders had asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lift the summer ban.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2022 Annual Energy Outlook report has a section that uses anticipated supply and demand projections for the use of biomass feedstocks for ethanol production, and soy oils and grease for biodiesel needs through 2050.

Biden did not mention his interest in expanding the production of electric-powered automobiles in his Iowa visit, although he has elsewhere, notably in auto producing states, and has drawn criticism for doing so from Republicans in the state. 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2021 Annual Energy Outlook report, projects that about 79% of new vehicle sales will be powered by liquid fuels — gasoline and blends that include up to 85% ethanol — in 2050. 

Electric cars accounted for 95% of sales in 2020, the report states.

"E15 is about 10 cents a gallon cheaper than E10"

In Iowa, a gallon of E10 gasoline was $3.89 and a gallon of E15 was $3.74 in April, according to user reports. The average price for unleaded regular gas in Iowa was $4.29 a gallon. 

However, the summer sales of E15 fuel will affect only consumers who pump gas at about 1.5% of the country’s 150,000 gas stations because only 2,300 gas stations in the country sell the fuel, the news service Quartz reported

"Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has driven up gas prices and food prices all over the world"

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations reported on April 8 that the price of food is currently the highest it's been since the time it started recording food costs in 2004. Russia is one of the world’s largest grain producers. Grain is used in common foods such as bread, pasta and cereal. Vegetable oil and cereal – products made with grain – also have gone up, according to U.N.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that the average price of gasoline went from $3.306 in the week of Jan. 17 to $4.091 as of April 11. But data shows that gas prices started to rise from a low point of $1.841 per gallon in April 2020 after they dropped significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

PolitiFact has looked at the level of blame Putin’s invasion of Ukraine shares for rising prices in the United States and found that the invasion could be linked to gas prices jumping upward. But gas prices were rising domestically long before the invasion. 

Reasons include growing demand for gasoline as people return to driving after staying at home during the pandemic and reduced refinery production. 

Gas prices have also gone up internationally, with the BBC reporting that petrol prices hit a record high at $139 a barrel in March, with wholesale gas prices doubling for next-day delivery. The spike came after the U.S. hinted at its ban on Russian oil. 

European countries, however, have not taken steps to ban Russian oil and gas because their supply relies on Russia. As of April 11, European countries were debating a Russian oil embargo in the European Union's next sanction package, according to Reuters

As for global food prices, they are rising after the invasion. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization reported a 17.9% increase in its March Food Price Index, which averages five commodity group prices — for meat, dairy, cereals, vegetable oils, and sugar — that are weighted with the average export shares. 

The increase was more than the average since June 2021. The Food and Agriculture Organization said the increase was the highest since tracking began in 1990.  

"Iowa has more bridges than any other states in the nation that are structurally deficient"

Iowa’s bridges rank worst among the U.S. states by the metric Biden mentioned: the number of structurally deficient bridges. 

According to a 2022 report from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, Iowa has 4,504 bridges that are considered structurally deficient, or in "poor" condition, by the Federal Highway Administration. 

Iowa has more than 1,000 more bridges in poor condition than the next state, Pennsylvania, which has 3,198 bridges with that designation. Illinois comes in third with 2,405. 

As a percentage of bridges, though, West Virginia ranks worst, with 20% of bridges in poor condition versus 19% in Iowa. 

Biden used the opportunity to talk about pending bridge repair in Iowa to tout the infrastructure bill, which he signed into law in 2021. 

The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed in a bipartisan vote in November covers a wide range of projects that include broadband expansion in rural areas, repairs and construction for bridges, dams, airports and highways. Republicans who voted against the bill or who actively opposed it have announced projects when awarded and have taken credit in some instances for getting a project for Iowa.

Each of Iowa’s Republican congressional members, except for Sen. Chuck Grassley, voted against the infrastructure bill. Grassley and Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne voted for the bill, although Biden only singled out Axne for her vote at his Menlo appearance.

"70% of increased prices in March came from Putin’s price hike in gasoline"

Adequate data to back this statement is not readily available. Inflation has been growing since April 2021. The February rate of 7.9% follows a trend from 7.5% in January and 7% in December, before Putin’s invasion.

"Food prices increased 7.9% for the year ended February 2022, the largest 12-month advance since July 1981," the March 15 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index report stated. "Energy prices rose 25.6% from February 2021 to February 2022, while prices for all items less food and energy rose 6.4%."

"It (ethanol production) creates good-paying jobs. It’s estimated that there are more than 400,000 jobs directly and indirectly supported by this (ethanol) industry, nationwide."

The jobs data shows up in a report by Agriculture and Biofuels Consulting, a Pennsylvania firm operated by economist John Urbanchuk. Urbanchuk reported that the ethanol industry was responsible for sustaining 407,416 jobs that pumped $52.1 billion into the U.S. economy in 2021. That was up from 349,000 jobs that created $43 billion for the U.S. economy in 2019, the same company’s report for that year showed. 

In these reports, 258,585 of the ethanol-related jobs existed in agriculture in 2021, up from 241,000 in 2019. 

Ethanol production is not labor intensive, though, the reports stated. Production, itself, required fewer than 9,000 jobs in 2021, although indirect and induced jobs – those created when ethanol industry workers spend money on goods and services – brought that total to the full-time equivalent of 117,291 jobs, the report for 2021 showed.

The 2022 typical salary for an ethanol plant operator can range from $50,700 a year, according to ZipRecruiter, to $58,430 a year, Glassdoor reports.

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Our Sources

Public Law 117-58, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act 

White House Fact Sheet: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal

PolitiFact and The Daily Iowan, "Iowa group corrects statement on Charles Grassley’s infrastructure vote," by Lyle Muller, Nov. 18, 2021

PolitiFact and The Daily Iowan, "Ashley Hinson took credit for Iowa locks and dams projects after opposing the projects in Congress," by Lauren White, Jan. 21, 2022Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds new release, Jan. 28, 2022; news release, March 16, 2022

PolitiFact and The Daily Iowan, "Iowa broadband touted by Republicans was funded by Democratic votes for American Rescue Plan," by Nina Baker, Jan. 11, 2022

Reuters, "Russian oil embargo could be part of next EU sanctions package, ministers say," April 11, 2022 

British Broadcasting Company, "Ukraine conflict: Petrol at fresh record as oil and gas prices soar," by Faisal Islam, March 7, 2022

U.S. Energy Information Administration, "U.S. Fuel Ethanol Plant Production Capacity," Sept. 3, 2021

U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Annual Energy Outlook 2021 with projections to 2050," February 2021

U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Liquid Fuels Market Module," March 2022

Chuck Grassley statement, April 11, 2022

Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Frequently Ask Questions website

Des Moines Register, "Iowa, Kansas attorneys general urge EPA to allow summer sale of E15 to cut gas prices," by Donnelle Eller," April 4, 2022
Tom Miller and Derek Schmidt letter to EPA Director Michael Regan, April 1, 2022

White House press release, "Statement by President Biden on General Motors Investment in Michigan," Jan. 25, 2022

E85Prices, April 12, 2022

Des Moines Register, "U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne pushes to include ethanol measures in $2 trillion infrastructure deal," by Brianne Pfannenstiel, April 21, 2022

PolitiFact, "How much blame does Putin deserve for high gasoline prices?" by Louis Jacobson; March 16, 2022

PolitiFact, "Ernst says gas prices are rising under Biden; they were going up under Trump, too," by Eleanor Hildebrandt, March 30, 2022

U.S. Energy Information Administration analysis

Agriculture and Biofuels Consulting LLC, "ABF Economics (2021), reported in February 2022; "ABF Economics (2019)," reported in February 2020

John Urbanchuk web page

Quartz, "Biden’s approval of E15 gas will only affect 1.5% of gas stations," by Nicolás Rivero, April 12, 2022

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index report, March 15, 2022

American Petroleum Institute fact page

Menlo, Iowa, web page

Iowa Rural Development Summit 2022 web page

Iowa Secretary of State, presidential election results in 2016 and 2020

Guthrie County, Iowa, Auditor, 2020 election results

The Guardian "Global food prices rise to highest ever levels after Russian invasion," Kaamil Ahmed, April 8, 2022

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index 

The Environmental Protection Agency, "Economics of Biofuels"

ZipRecruiter ethanol plant operator salary report in April 2022

Glassdoor ethanol plant operator salary report in April 2022

AAA national average gas prices

Fact-checking claims in President Joe Biden’s visit to Iowa