Joni Ernst, Theresa Greenfield jockey for position as ethanol champions as election heats up
Iowa’s U.S. Senate candidates are jockeying for roles as champions of the state’s ethanol industry, which leads the nation but faces renewed threats from within the federal government.
Both Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield have taken issue with waivers the Environmental Protection Agency granted to small oil refineries exempting them from using renewable fuels, arguing they undercut the demand for ethanol.
But as the election intensifies — a recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll puts the race’s margin within 3 percentage points — each candidate is arguing she’s best suited to guide the industry through the turmoil.
More:Poll: Democrat Theresa Greenfield leads GOP Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa race
“It's something that I'm not new to. I've been fighting for this for years and years,” Ernst said during a news conference Monday.
Late last week, Ernst announced she would oppose Doug Benevento's nomination to be EPA deputy administrator, effectively blocking his appointment. At issue, she said, is the administration’s consideration of a new round of waivers.
Greenfield recently began airing radio ads targeting Ernst for voting to confirm Andrew Wheeler as head of the EPA. Wheeler, who was confirmed in February 2019 after Scott Pruitt resigned from the post, previously spent years as a powerful energy lobbyist.
“(Ernst) voted to put a fossil fuel lobbyist as head of the head of EPA knowing that they would put the interests of the fossil fuel industry and Big Oil first and foremost,” Greenfield said during a news conference Tuesday.
Greenfield has called on Wheeler to resign, and urged Ernst to do the same.
Ernst noted that she previously called on Wheeler to resign if the administration can’t deliver on its commitment of blending 15 billion gallons of ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply.
“We will hold them accountable for that 15 billion gallons,” she said. “And if we don't get there, you know, I've already asked for him to resign. That was eight months ago. So they are on a steady course to get to that 15 billion gallons. So we'll keep pressing the administration on this, but again (Greenfield) is really late to the game.”
Iowa’s ethanol industry has already taken hits from the trade war with China, Mexico and Canada, which pushed profits and prices down. And the coronavirus outbreak depressed exports. Economists at Iowa State University estimate Iowa ethanol producers will lose nearly $2.5 billion as a result of the pandemic.
More:Iowa’s coronavirus-related agriculture losses projected to be ‘truly awful’
Both Ernst and Greenfield have spoken about the importance of the industry to Iowa's economy and to rural communities.
Ernst said she's been a leader in pushing President Donald Trump to be more supportive of the ethanol industry, taking credit for helping to convincing him not to challenge a recent court ruling that benefited ethanol producers over oil refineries.
“The president has stated that I am a relentless fighter for the RFS, and he hears from me frequently,” she said.
Ernst touted new industry achievements she’s helped spearhead, including access to year-round E15, or gasoline blended with 15% ethanol. The move was expected to increase demand. But many in the ethanol industry have complained that the waivers and exemptions have undercut the promised benefit.
Greenfield accused Ernst of being beholden to her donors, some of which include people and companies in the oil and gas industry. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Ernst has taken at least $305,121 in donations from people and companies in the oil and gas industry throughout her career.
"Sen. Ernst told us she was going to be independent, she was going to be different, and she was going to make them squeal," Greenfield said. "And right now that's not what she's done for Iowa. Iowa farmers are squealing. Our ethanol industry is squealing. And it's because she puts her corporate PAC donors first and foremost."
Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.
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