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Growth Energy’s new COO optimistic over election results for ethanol

DANIEL LOOKER 11/02/2010 @ 3:29pm Business Editor

This week a director of the ethanol lobbying group, Growth Energy, may have surfed the Republican wave in Congress to a higher profile with the group.

Growth promoted Jim Nussle, an eight term former Republican Congressman from Iowa and head of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush, to be its president and chief operating officer. Nussle has been on the Growth Energy board since early 2009 shortly after the organization was formed.

When asked if he’s been waiting in the wings for a more active role, Nussle said, “I’ve always been available to help in these kinds of efforts.” He won’t be a registered lobbyist for the group but will be managing day-to-day operations for an organization that now has a following of some 29,000 informal supporters in agriculture and the ethanol industry.

The group was already well positioned to influence Democrats in Congress and the White House. Its CEO, Tom Buis, worked as an aide to former Senate Democratic Majority Leader Tom Daschle before becoming president of National Farmers Union. Another former Daschle staffer, Pete Rouse, recently replaced Rahm Emanuel as President Barack Obama’s interim chief of staff. Growth Energy’s co-chairman, retired General Wesley Clark, ran for president in the 2004 Democratic primaries.

Nussle hardly expects partisan feuding to end in Washington if his party takes over the House of Representatives as expected.  Energy policy may be an exception.

“I really believe that energy policy may be one of the opportunities for bipartisanship in the next Congress,” Nussle said. “I believe both the Obama Administration and Republicans will look for that opportunity.”

Before that next Congress begins in January, the current 45 cent-a-gallon tax credit for ethanol blenders expires on December 31, unless the lame-duck Congress still controlled by Democrats votes to extend it.

With only 24 working days left on the lame duck calendar, Nussle is less certain of what will happen to the tax credit. Growth Energy is pushing for at least a one-year extension of the tax credit along with three other trade groups, the American Coalition for Ethanol, the National Corn Growers Association and the Renewable Fuels Association.

Earlier this year Growth Energy drew criticism from some in the industry for offering to phase out the tax credit in return for more federal support for helping ethanol reach consumers, with blender pumps, mandates for flexible fuel vehicles and federal loan guarantees for ethanol pipelines.

Nussle, who played a key role in putting that proposal together, said Tuesday that it the Growth Energy’s “Fueling Freedom” plan fits well with Congress’s renewed interest in reducing the federal deficit.

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