Reynolds, Cruz exchange fierce slogans

Energy policy debate highlights political dysfunction

Adam Sullivan is a writer, activist and communications adviser in Iowa City.
Adam Sullivan is a writer, activist and communications adviser in Iowa City.

A political battle is breaking out with Iowa corn on one side, and Texas oil on the other.

Gov. Kim Reynolds reportedly brought a “Free Bill” T-shirt along to the Republican Governors Association meeting in Texas last week, a reference to Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey’s federal job appointment being held up in the Senate. In response, a small group of demonstrators showed up at the governors meeting, picketing against “corn-y capitalism.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, acknowledged last week he is the one blocking Northey’s confirmation process. Cruz is using the vote as leverage to criticize parts of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which he says puts the oil industry at an unfair disadvantage.

Cruz recently sent Reynolds a letter to explain his political maneuvering, writing “I believe that the only sensible path forward must provide wins for both refinery workers in Texas and Pennsylvania, and corn farmers in Iowa and Nebraska.”

Northey is undoubtedly qualified for the job in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Iowa leaders complain we are suffering under Washington, D.C. obstructionism.

Cruz has a strong counterpoint, though — Iowa started it.

Sen. Joni Ernst initially blocked the confirmation vote on Trump’s pick for an Environmental Protection Agency post. The vote only moved forward after EPA administrators promised to protect the RFS.

“Holding the EPA’s feet to the fire has put us on a path to receive strong reassurances on biofuel volumes and the EPA’s commitment to follow both the letter and the spirit of the RFS, as well as a commitment to not pursue other policies harmful to our farmers across Iowa,” Ernst wrote in a statement released last month.

From a practical and political standpoint, you can hardly blame Ernst for sticking up for her state’s best interest. That is precisely what Cruz is trying to do as well.


The latest Reynolds-Cruz slogan war reminds me of my favorite piece of political memorabilia, the “Farmers Against Cruz” hat I picked up during the 2016 caucus cycle. Iowa agriculture operatives distributed the hats at a conservative event, in response to Cruz’s stand against ethanol.

When someone asks about the hat, I awkwardly explain that I’m not really a farmer, and I’m so-so on Cruz, but not for the same reasons as ethanol tycoons who published the hat. To date, nobody has ever been glad they asked.

Iowa and Texas leaders should play key roles in the energy policy debate, but picket signs and apparel are poor substitutes for substantive discourse.

I found it extraordinarily difficult to find reliable information about the economic and environmental impacts of the issues at play here, largely because the energy industry is prone to funding and promoting its own scientific research. Even public sector researchers are heavily influenced by politics, fundraising, and corporate sponsorships.

It seems clear neither gasoline nor ethanol will be the fuels of the future. Oil is a limited resource, and some evidence shows ethanol’s environmental benefits over gasoline are slim.

What’s even more clear is that the political brinkmanship and bring-home-the-bacon mentality on display here are unsustainable. Americans don’t care who started it, we’re waiting for someone bold enough to end it.

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