CEDAR RAPIDS — Joined by leaders in Iowa’s agricultural and ethanol industries, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst kicked off a “really big week” for Iowa agriculture as the most recent version of a North American trade agreement will take effect Wednesday.
“This will be a big boon for our Iowa industry ... because Mexico and Canada are Iowa’s two largest trading partners,” the Iowa Republican said in a video news conference Monday. “So this, folks, is a really, really big deal, and despite a year of obstruction from Democrats, we did deliver this big win for Iowa.”
Ernst and agricultural group officials spent most of the 30 minutes talking about her defense of ethanol from threats posed by the Environmental Protection Agency and Big Oil.
Ernst, a Republican who is seeking re-election, has come under attack from Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield for not protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires gasoline sold in the U.S. to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels, such as corn-based ethanol.
“This is something I know, I understand and have been involved in, literally, for at least a decade or better in elected service,” Ernst said, adding that President Donald Trump has called her a “relentless fighter for the RFS.”
Greenfield has criticized Ernst for not calling for the resignation of Andrew Wheeler, the EPA administrator, and for failure to protect the RFS.
“She’s really late to the game,” Ernst said. “I called on Andrew Wheeler to resign eight months ago if he is not upholding the 15 billion gallon agreement that they came to us with in the White House. We will hold them accountable for that 15 billion gallons. And if we don’t get there, you know, I’ve already asked for him to resign.”
That’s an “empty threat,” according to the Greenfield campaign, which said Ernst is trying to “rewrite her disastrous record” on ethanol and the RFS. Ernst voted to confirm Wheeler, a fossil fuel lobbyist, to head the EPA. Since then, Wheeler has approved 85 RFS waivers, with 52 more now under consideration.
Last week, Ernst blocked the confirmation of Wheeler’s deputy, but Greenfield spokeswoman Izzi Levy called that an attempt “a distraction (that) won’t do anything to protect the Iowa farmers and biofuels producers.”
Joining Ernst on Monday were Mike Jerke, president of Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy; Delayne Johnson, CEO of Quad County Corn Processors; Mike Paustian, president of Iowa Pork; and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.
Iowa agricultural and ethanol producers need Ernst in Washington to protect their interests, Jerke said.
“We’re not Big Oil. We don’t have that kind of lobbying effort,” he said. “We need strong advocates. She has always talked about her ability to connect with the president directly. We’re going to need that going forward as well. We need people out there who understand our agricultural community and the vital importance of ethanol.”
According to the Greenfield campaign, about 43,000 people in Iowa making a living in some way connected to ethanol. Due in part to less travel during the coronavirus pandemic, demand for ethanol has dropped and production is down by about 50 percent.
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