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Posted on  

May 20, 2002

Iowa Supreme Court Rejects Ethanol Plan

by Rod Swoboda

The Iowa Supreme Court on May 8, 2002, rejected a lawsuit that would have forced state officials to require that all gasoline sold in Iowa be blended with 10% ethanol. The ruling is the latest setback for ethanol boosters.

The lawsuit was filed last year by a group of people interested in increasing agricultural income by promoting the use of ethanol made from Iowa corn, and interested in promoting the use of alternative fuel to replace imported petroleum. The diverse group included U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), 12 state lawmakers in the Iowa Legislature, and the heads of several farm groups - including the Iowa Farm Bureau and Iowa Corn Growers Association.

The group wanted Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge to issue a regulation requiring that all motor vehicle fuel sold in the state be blended with ethanol. Judge said she’d be glad to do that - if she had the authority to do so.

One of her responsibilities is regulating the sale of motor vehicle fuels, but the state supreme court said in this new ruling that Judge’s authority doesn’t extend to controlling the content of the fuel.

Pushing for all Iowa gasoline to contain 10% ethanol

"The high court in issuing this ruling on the matter said that the state secretary of agriculture does not have authority to adopt a rule which mandates the specific content of ethanol in motor fuel," notes Dave Boettger. He is the current Iowa Corn Growers Association president and a farmer from Harlan, Iowa. "The court said if the legislature had wanted the Iowa secretary of agriculture to have such authority, the legislature would have adopted specific provisions."

The lawsuit was the latest battle in the effort to promote increased use of corn-based ethanol. Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has for the past three years pushed the Iowa Legislature to require that all gasoline in the state include 10% ethanol, but lawmakers have resisted. Vilsack says he is disappointed in the court’s ruling but that he will continue pushing for expansion of ethanol use in Iowa.

Frustrated with that effort, Grassley and the heads of the farm groups, along with a dozen state legislators, went to court arguing that Judge regulates the sale of motor fuels and should order the use of ethanol statewide. That put Judge in a bind, because she’s a farmer from Albia, Iowa, and is a big ethanol booster.

Judge said she'd do it, if given the power

After consulting lawyers, Judge told the ethanol advocates that she had no legal authority to order ethanol use, but that she would "act favorably" if she had the power to issue such an order. The lawsuit was quickly filed.

The high court said Judge can’t use general regulatory powers to impose specific requirements. If the Legislature had wanted to grant her the power to order ethanol use, it would have done so directly, the court said.

The court noted that state law gives Judge authority to regulate shipment, delivery, testing and storage of fuel and to issue dealer permits, but doesn’t address the content of the fuel.

Ag secretary has no authority on content of fuel

"We believe the Legislature would have provided for the regulation of the blending of ethanol in motor fuel" if that were the intent, the court said in a press release. The court noted that when Congress a number of years ago became aware of the health dangers associated with lead in gasoline, it gave environmental officials specific directions to ban the substance.

"We conclude the secretary of agriculture is not authorized to promulgate rules relating to the percentage content of ethanol in motor fuel sold in Iowa," the court said. "There is no legislative grant of such authority."



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