Editorial: Ernst comes through for farmers, Iowa

Source: By Editorial Board, Council Bluffs Nonpareil • Posted: Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Politicians from Iowa — the nation’s No. 1 producer of ethanol — and Nebraska — the nation’s No. 2 producer of the fuel supplement — on Friday hailed as a triumph Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s embrace of policies favorable to domestic production of ethanol and other renewable fuels.

In his Iowa caucus speeches vowing, among other things, to make our nation great again, then-candidate Donald Trump courted farmers and their votes by praising the importance of ethanol in reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and promising that he would boost the home-grown fuel.

Trump repeatedly vowed to “protect” ethanol. But he loaded his Cabinet — not surprisingly — with allies of the oil industry, which views the Renewable Fuel Standard that mandates biofuel use as costly and burdensome.

Despite Trump’s campaign vows, under the leadership of Pruitt, the EPA has pursued a series of changes that would help the oil industry at the expense of farmers.

Renewable fuel advocates had been understandably nervous about a slew of potential policy changes at the EPA. The most recent headline-making dispute revolved around the possibility of the EPA lowering proposed volume levels under the Renewable Fuel Standard, particularly for biodiesel.

Iowa’s senior Republican senator, Chuck Grassley, commented last month, “This seems like a bait-and-switch. Big Oil and oil refineries are prevailing, despite assurances to the contrary.”

“It is my hope that your EPA has not forgotten about the pledges that were made to my constituents and to farmers across the country,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, told the president in a letter sent late last month.

To underscore her commitment, Ernst, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, blocked a key EPA nominee over concerns about the agency’s approach to renewable fuels.

Late last week, Pruitt sent a letter that included a laundry list of commitments to support renewable fuels. Pruitt committed in the letter that those volumes will be finalized by the end of next month at or above the levels proposed earlier this year. The letter was, we think, a clear demonstration of the political muscle flexed by Ernst and other Midwestern grain states.

Offering further concessions referring to efforts by oil and gas interests to shift the burden of meeting RFS requirements from refiners and importers to blenders, Pruitt’s letter stated such a shift would not be appropriate. He also addressed a proposal to allow exported fuel to count toward domestic requirements: “EPA has not taken any formal action to propose this idea, nor will EPA pursue regulations.”

“I reiterate my commitment to you and your constituents to act consistent with the text and spirit of the RFS,” Pruitt wrote.

While she may be Iowa’s junior senator, Ernst’s hard-ball approach won much-needed concessions for Iowa and Iowa’s farmers.