I graduated high school during the farm crisis, when interest rates were 21 percent and farm families like mine were in ruin. I remember going to auctions, where families’ belongings were laid out on hayracks to be sold for just a few dollars. The families left town and never came back.
As I run for Senate today, we’re seeing it all over again. Last year, farm bankruptcies were at an eight year high and net farm income was down 75 percent since 2013. And that was before the coronavirus.
There are many reasons why our farm communities have been struggling these last few years: haphazard trade policies, historic flooding, and this pandemic certainly haven’t helped. But a big part of why our farmers are in this position again is because of harmful ethanol policies coming from Washington that were preventable.
In fact, Andrew Wheeler, the EPA Administrator that Sen. Joni Ernst voted to confirm, is a former fossil fuel lobbyist. He made it clear during his confirmation process that he would continue the practice of granting Renewable Fuel Standard waivers to the oil industry at the expense of Iowa farmers and biofuels producers.
Sen. Ernst voted to confirm him anyway. Sure enough, he did exactly what he said he would do — and what Ernst signed off on with her confirmation vote — and continued giving these handouts to the oil industry. Oil refiners have been granted a staggering 85 waivers since 2016 and it’s Iowa farmers who are paying the price.
Ethanol production in Iowa is down by half this year, and last month, experts at Iowa State projected that our ethanol industry would lose close to $2.6 billion in 2020. Nine biofuel plants have already shut their doors.
Now, even as our farmers struggle to make ends meet and biofuel producers idle their plants, we’re learning that the EPA is considering another 52 retroactive gap-year waivers for the oil industry, going all the way back to 2011.
Enough is enough. Administrator Wheeler must resign immediately.
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The EPA needs to release a full accounting of the RFS waivers currently under consideration, and Congress must take immediate action in passing more relief for Iowa’s biofuel industry.
And if Sen. Ernst is serious about her commitment to our farmers, she’ll join me in calling for Wheeler’s resignation.
Sen. Ernst said she’d be different. She said she’d make ‘em squeal. But that’s not what we’ve seen from her. Instead, she’s taken over $420,000 in campaign cash from Big Oil, and after nearly six years in Washington, hardworking Iowans are the only ones squealing.
As Iowa’s farm economy faces unprecedented pain, Ernst’s refusal to stand up to her Big Oil and corporate PAC donors is more proof that hardworking Iowans can’t count on her to fight for us.
From now until November, I am going to keep holding Sen. Ernst accountable, and calling for her to step up, do her job, and put Iowa first. And if she won’t fight for Iowa’s farmers, you can bet I will.
Theresa Greenfield is the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate.