What the Iowans fought for, bragged about in massive year-end spending bills

The U.S. House and Senate managed to wrap up their work for the year without shutting down the government, an improvement on the state of affairs when the fully Republican-controlled Congress left for the winter holiday break in 2018.

The two huge bills contained about $1.4 trillion in spending, which will keep the federal government open through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2020. President Donald Trump signed the legislation.

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Played for suckers on ethanol, top Iowa Republicans still covering for Trump

Governor Kim Reynolds and U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst praised President Donald Trump in October, when the administration gave assurances corn growers and the ethanol industry would get what they wanted from the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2020 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) guidelines. The governor and senators were among Midwest Republicans who had lobbied Trump on the issue in September.

When the final rule released this week didn’t match the promises, biofuels advocates slammed Trump for not keeping his word to farmers. But top Iowa Republicans let the president off the hook by shifting the blame to the EPA.

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IA-Sen: Warning signs for Joni Ernst

Iowans haven’t voted out a sitting U.S. senator since 1984, but several recent events have caused political observers to question Senator Joni Ernst’s strengths going into her first re-election bid.

Inside Elections changed its rating on Iowa’s 2020 U.S. Senate race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican” this month. (Sabato’s Crystal Ball already rated the IA-Sen race “lean R,” while the Cook Political Report still sees a GOP hold likely.) Writing at the National Journal on October 20, Josh Kraushaar cited several “major red flags suggesting Iowa is a much bigger battleground than Republicans anticipated at the beginning of the year.”

Ernst told supporters at a closed-door fundraiser with Vice President Mike Pence this month that she is the fifth most-vulnerable senator, according to Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News.

What’s going on?

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Trump's EPA punishes renewable fuels and farmers

David Weaver farms in Greene County and was the 2018 Democratic candidate in Iowa House district 47. He wrote this commentary after October 1, when Reuters reported that the Environmental Protection Agency had halted work on biofuels policy adjustment, and before October 4, when the Trump administration announced an agreement on the Renewable Fuel Standard. Republicans hailed the plan, while Democrats described it as vague and inadequate. -promoted by Laura Belin

Well, you have to wonder when a farmer from Rippey decides that it is time to challenge the statistical findings of an economist (and a well known and very well-respected economist like Dave Swenson), but here is my mighty swing at explaining why the ethanol industry’s problems are a demand-driven crisis, not a supply-driven crisis as Mr. Swenson contends.

My initial premise is that the sky is NOT falling. Rather, the ceiling has been lowering itself at a steady rate since Donald Trump took office and installed his EPA leadership. The demise of three Iowa ethanol plants during the past month are merely the first indications of the straw that broke the camel’s back.

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Our biggest ethanol problem? There’s too much of it

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson challenges the conventional wisdom on a hot political topic. -promoted by Laura Belin

The sky is falling and Midwest rural economies are in danger of collapse. So say the nation’s ethanol producers, corn farmers, and like-minded politicians.

Their collective fingers are pointing at the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s granting of 31 waivers to U.S. refineries lowering the amount of biofuels they are required to blend into the petro-fuels they distribute. The waivers, the stakeholders claim, are the cause of a string of biorefinery closings and idlings.

Working through this, however, does not lead one to necessarily conclude that the infamous 31 waivers are the chief culprits.

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MidAmerican's bid to crush small solar creates strange lobbying bedfellows

MidAmerican Energy’s effort to crush small-scale solar generation made it through the Iowa legislature’s first “funnel” and will be eligible for floor debate in both chambers. The House Commerce Committee on March 4 approved House Study Bill 185 (now renamed House File 669) without amendment on a party-line 12 to 10 vote. The Senate Commerce Committee amended the companion Senate Study Bill 1201 before advancing it on March 7.

The bill will likely pass the upper chamber, where Republicans have a 32 to 17 majority. Although Republicans outnumber Democrats by 54 to 46 in the House, and MidAmerican’s political action committee donated to dozens of incumbents’ campaigns last year, getting the solar bill through the lower chamber will be no easy task. A utility-backed bill to undercut energy efficiency programs was one of the heaviest lifts during the 2018 session. Only after several concessions did supporters cobble together 52 Republican votes in the House. The GOP held 59 seats at that time.

More than three dozen corporations, industry groups, or advocacy organizations have lobbyists registered for or against MidAmerican’s solar bill. While it’s not unusual for a high-profile bill to draw that kind of attention, the two camps seeking to persuade legislators on this issue reflect alliances rarely seen at the statehouse.

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