Guest Columnist

Ernst is a champion for Iowa's biofuels industry

Sen. Joni Ernst in Henry County during her 99-county tour. (Ashley Duong/The Union)
Sen. Joni Ernst in Henry County during her 99-county tour. (Ashley Duong/The Union)

Early voting starts in Iowa on Oct. 5, with many issues for Iowans to consider this year. One thing should be clear, though: U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst deserves a second term for her hard work and tenacity in defending Iowa’s biofuel producers.

Ernst has been an effective champion of the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is important to Iowa’s economy. The renewable fuel industry generates $5 billion in economic activity for Iowa each year, with a significant percentage coming from the biodiesel industry.

Iowa produces 395 million gallons of biodiesel every year — the most in the nation. That supports 3,875 jobs across the state and more than $260 million in annual household income. And producers annually purchase more than $840 million worth of Iowa soybean oil along with inedible corn oil from ethanol plants. A healthy, growing biodiesel industry can help the state rebound from recent economic setbacks.

The RFS will continue to be important over the next six years and beyond. Congress set volumes for the RFS only through 2022 but didn’t intend that as a sunset for the program. For 2023 and future years, EPA will have authority to set all RFS volumes. The agency should use the same process to set future volumes that it has used for setting biomass-based diesel volumes since 2013. Iowa’s biodiesel producers have had to fight for higher volumes every year, and Ernst has been there with us when we needed her. And we will have to continue to fight to ensure growth after 2022.

All of Iowa’s elected officials fight hard for the state’s farmers and biofuel producers. But Ernst holds a special role as a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Since that committee oversees EPA, Ernst has been able to ensure fairness for Iowans in the agency’s handling of the RFS. If reelected, she’ll be in a position to keep fighting for Iowa’s interests in the RFS as EPA gains more authority to set volumes.

Most recently, Ernst scored a huge victory for Iowa’s biodiesel producers. She played a key role in ensuring that EPA denied the first round of so-called gap-filling small refinery exemptions. Refiners filed dozens of these exemption petitions — some going all the way back to the start of the RFS program — in a ridiculous attempt to get around a court order that clearly limits them. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler expressed some doubt about whether the petitions would even meet the standards set by the court.

Over the past several years, refiners used these petitions to destroy demand for more than a half-billion gallons of biodiesel — equal to more than an entire year’s production in Iowa. The loss of demand forced several biodiesel producers to close, including one here in Iowa. Hopefully, EPA’s denial of the gap-filling exemptions will create more certainty for biodiesel producers and allow them to get back to work. Ernst has been a consistent, strong advocate for Iowa’s interests during her first term. That alone is a good reason to re-elect her. But more importantly, Iowa’s biofuel producers need her to continue to be effective in protecting the RFS over the next six years. She is good for Iowa and America.

Thomas Brooks is the general manager of a 30-million-gallon biodiesel plant in Farley, Iowa.

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