# Ethanol

Proposed Summit Carbon project set to use much more water

Autumn View from Fire Point at Effigy mounds National Monument, photo by National Park Service

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past twelve years.

Disclosure: Dugan has filed several objections into the Summit Carbon Iowa Utilities Board dockets in opposition to the pipeline. Her most recent objections can be found here and here. She has neither sought nor received funding for her work.

In September 2023, Bleeding Heartland posted estimates of proposed water use for thirteen partner ethanol plants along the Summit Carbon pipeline. The estimates were based on the testimony of James “Jimmy” Powell, chief operating officer for Summit, and they included the Absolute Energy St. Ansgar facility, which Summit Carbon announced had been added to the route in June 2023.

But much has changed since that story was published. The number of ethanol plants now on the proposed Iowa route has risen to 30 with the inclusion of the POET and Valero facilities.

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Iowa House Democrats strangely quiet on eminent domain bill

Protester’s sign against a pillar in the state capitol on February 27 (photo by Laura Belin)

What’s the opposite of “loud and proud”?

Iowa House Democrats unanimously voted for the chamber’s latest attempt to address the concerns of landowners along the path of Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline. But not a single Democrat spoke during the March 28 floor debate.

The unusual tactic allowed the bill’s Republican advocates to take full credit for defending property rights against powerful corporate interests—an extremely popular position.

It was a missed opportunity to share a Democratic vision for fair land use policies and acknowledge the progressive constituencies that oppose the pipeline for various reasons.

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Summit Carbon partner ethanol plants to pursue SAF opportunities in Iowa

Sample hog from which N. K. Fairbank & Co’s lard is made, via the Boston Public Library and Wikimedia Commons

The Song of King Corn, by C. A. Murch (Verses 1 and 5)

The dews of heaven,
The rains that fall,
The fatness of earth,
I claim them all.
O’er mountain and plain
My praises ring,
O’er ocean and land
I am King! I am King!

Would you dethrone me?
Not so, not so.
Still the golden tide
Shall swell and flow;
The earth yield riches,
The toilers sing,
In the golden land
Where Corn is King.

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

Disclosure: Dugan has filed several objections into the Summit Carbon Iowa Utilities Board dockets in opposition to the pipeline. Her most recent objections can be found here and here. She has neither sought nor received funding for her work.

On March 11, Kaylee Langrell, stakeholder relations manager for TurnKey Logistics, and Grant Terry, senior project manager for Summit Carbon Solutions, appeared before the Worth County Board of Supervisors to explain the newly expanded pipeline route incorporating POET and Valero ethanol plants in Iowa. Forty-six minutes into the meeting, Langrell stated the following:

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Gevo plant in South Dakota will use 300 million gallons of water annually

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

A Gevo official confirmed on February 2 that the company expects to use 300 million gallons of water per year, or 700 gallons per minute, at its planned Lake Preston, South Dakota Net-Zero 1 (NZ1) plant and an adjacent green hydrogen facility known as the Dakota Renewable Hydrogen (DRH) Project.

When asked if the water use estimate provided was for the NZ1 plant, the DRH plant, or both, Heather Manuel, vice president of corporate communications for Gevo, replied, “Both – we have an agreement with Kingbrook Rural Water for our water supply and do not require a permit.”

On February 6, 2023, Summit Carbon Solutions announced its partnership with Colorado-based Gevo, although that arrangement is not yet reflected on the South Dakota pipeline route. Sabrina Zenor, director of stakeholder engagement and corporate communications for Summit, stated on January 25 that Gevo would be added to the proposed CO2 pipeline route when the company resubmits its application to the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. The commission denied Summit’s initial application last September.

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Summit Carbon project mired in contradictions

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

North Dakota officials were pulling no punches during an informational session held in Bismarck last month, highlighting the importance of the Summit Carbon pipeline to both the sustainable aviation fuel market and enhanced oil recovery efforts in the Bakken.

During a December 20, 2023, BEK TV special report that broadcast a Friends of Ag and Energy public information session on the Summit Carbon pipeline, held at Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center of Excellence, Governor Doug Burgum said, “Sustainable aviation fuel, if you want to call it the Saudi Arabia of sustainable aviation fuel, it’s going to happen somewhere between North Dakota and Iowa and in between, the corn belt.”

Kathleen Neset, a geologist and owner of Neset Consulting Service Inc. who moderated the panel, spoke after Burgum, stating the following at the outset:

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Summit Carbon water permits spark dissent among landowners

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

Three Iowa women who rely on the Devonian aquifer for their water have filed suit in Polk County seeking to vacate a water use permit granted earlier this year, in connection with a CO2 pipeline project.

Kimberly Junker, Candice Brandau Larson, and Kathy Carter are suing the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which on May 29 issued a water use permit to Lawler SCS Capture, LLC. The permit allows the LLC to withdraw up to 55.9 million gallons of water per year from the Devonian aquifer, at a maximum rate of 100 gallons per minute.

Formed in 2022, Lawler SCS Capture is one of myriad Delaware-based businesses affiliated with Summit Carbon Solutions, LLC. The well and associated carbon capture facility would be located on land owned by Homeland Energy Solutions, an ethanol plant and Summit Carbon partner in Chickasaw County. Bleeding Heartland was first to report last month that the DNR issued the Lawler permit.

Attorney Wally Taylor is representing the plaintiffs in his personal capacity. (He is also the legal chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter, which opposes Summit Carbon’s efforts to build a CO2 pipeline, but Sierra Club is not a party in this lawsuit.) Here’s the full text of the petition filed in Polk County District Court on October 18.

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No eminent domain solely for private gain

Democratic State Representative Chuck Isenhart represents Iowa House district 72, covering part of Dubuque and nearby areas. He is a member of the Iowa House Economic Growth Committee, the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, and the Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald published a shorter version of this article on October 9.

“No eminent domain for private gain” is the catch phrase of opponents contesting three proposals for carbon dioxide pipelines in Iowa.

The Summit Carbon Solutions project would transport up to 18 million tons of the emissions each year, mainly from Iowa ethanol plants, to be buried deep in porous rock formations in North Dakota.

Why? Arguably, to keep the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere, where it heats the air, causing climate change and weather disasters. At least that’s why the federal government is offering to pay $85 per ton for projects that capture and sequester carbon. At full capacity, that could be a $1.5 billion annual payday for Summit alone.

Owners of hundreds of parcels of land oppose the pipeline, mainly because they believe the productivity of farm ground will be lost and the integrity of drainage tiles will be damaged. Others question the safety of the pipelines.

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Iowa needs a fair Farm Bill

Rebecca Wolf is Senior Food Policy Analyst at the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch. Get involved in the fight for a fair Farm Bill at foodandwaterwatch.org.

Amidst the Congressional chaos of the past week, one important deadline passed rather inconspicuously. The Farm Bill expired on September 30, the last day of the federal fiscal year. Passed every five years, the Farm Bill is a suite of policies passed on a bipartisan basis to keep our food and farm system running. The longer our legislators delay, the more we flirt with brinkmanship for critical programs that keep people fed and ensure farmers are paid.

Iowa needs a fair Farm Bill. With more factory farms than any other state, millions of acres in mono-cropped corn and soy, and a mounting clean water crisis, Iowa offers a clear case study of the failures of modern corporate agricultural policy. Iowa’s legislative delegation must seize this opportunity to pass bold reforms that support farmers, rural communities, and clean water — not Big Ag.

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Iowans back debt ceiling plan, after winning concession on biofuels

All four Iowans in the U.S. House voted on April 26 for a plan to raise the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion for the coming year, in exchange for “aggressive caps on federal spending” over the next decade.

The House approved the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023 by 217 votes to 215, meaning House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had no votes to spare.

The speaker secured passage of his bill by making concessions on biofuels subsidies on the eve of the vote. McCarthy had previously indicated he was not open to altering the bill, but a group of Republicans from the Midwest—including Iowa’s Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01), Ashley Hinson (IA-02), Zach Nunn (IA-03), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04)—insisted on changes.

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Iowa House Democrats, think outside the box on pipelines

Julie Russell-Steuart is a printmaker and activist who chairs the Iowa Democratic Party’s Disability Caucus. The Iowa House is expected to debate an eminent domain bill (House File 565) on March 22.

Currently, we have a robust nonpartisan movement of people backing legislation that would restrict the use of eminent domain to construct carbon dioxide pipelines across Iowa.

The latest Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom shows an overwhelming majority of Iowans—82 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of Republicans, and 79 percent of independents—are against letting corporations use eminent domain for a land grab to build pipelines. Most Iowans realize these corporations do not have their best interests in mind. From the devaluing of our century farms to the strong risk of a rupture that would endanger lives and health, Iowans have been speaking up about these risks all over the state.

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A science-based case against carbon dioxide pipelines across Iowa

Seventeen academics, farmland owners, and environmental advocates have urged the Iowa Utilities Board to reject permit applications for a carbon dioxide pipeline that would run across Iowa. A July 29 letter to the board laid out four science-based objections to the projects proposed by Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Ventures, and Archer Daniels Midland partnered with Wolf Carbon Solutions.

Matt Liebman, Iowa State University professor emeritus of agronomy, took the lead in writing the document. Citing “relevant scientific and engineering studies,” the letter explained how the pipelines would damage soil and crop yields without significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Allowing the use of eminent domain for this project would be “a betrayal of public trust and a corruption of the ideal of private sacrifice for public good,” the letter argued.

Those who wrote to the Iowa Utilities Board include six retired professors from Iowa colleges or universities and several Iowans with professional conservation experience at the federal or county level. I also signed, having been an environmental advocate for the past 20 years. I did not draft the letter or make editorial changes to it.

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Book review: The Land Remains

Larry Stone reviews Neil Hamilton’s new book The Land Remains: A Midwestern Perspective on our Past and Future.

Many of us baby boomer farm kids recall growing up in the 1950s and 60s walkin’ beans, baling hay, quail in the fencerows, and “the back 40.” But you don’t need a time machine to recapture that era, or to ponder the future of Iowa agriculture. Just read The Land Remains, by Neil D. Hamilton.

Raised on an Adams County farm, Hamilton earned forestry and law degrees before becoming director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University in Des Moines. He recently retired after 36 years. His memoir traces his growing awareness of how our agricultural policies have shaped not only the land but also the very fabric of our society.

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Iowa Democrats won't speak truth to ethanol power

The biofuels industry got a big win in the Iowa legislature this week, as the state House and Senate approved a bill requiring most gas stations in the state to dispense a higher ethanol blend known as E15 from at least half of their pumps.

All but a handful of Democratic legislators voted for the bill, and no Democrat spoke against the proposal during Senate or House floor debate.

It was the latest example of how Iowa Democratic politicians have embraced biofuels industry talking points and avoided challenging any policies seen as supporting ethanol.

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Koch-backed group taking sides in Iowa House GOP primaries

Americans for Prosperity — Iowa announced its first two endorsements for Republican legislative primaries on January 13. In both Iowa House districts, the candidates backed by the influential conservative lobby group will face more experienced GOP lawmakers in the June 7 primary.

Drew Klein, state director of the Koch-funded network‘s Iowa chapter, declined to comment for the record about the reasons underlying AFP — Iowa’s 2022 primary endorsements. AFP lobbies for or against dozens of bills Iowa lawmakers consider every year. The group’s priorities include tax cuts, undermining public sector unions, reducing occupational licensing requirements, and various measures to redirect public funds away from public schools.

AFP is backing Zach Dieken in the new House district 5, where State Representative Dennis Bush is seeking re-election, and first-term State Representative Steven Bradley in the new House district 66, where six-term State Representative Lee Hein is also running. The group is already publicizing its endorsements in Facebook ads.

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Trump leaves Biden an odd "welcome mat"

Herb Strentz reflects on the transfer of power and the reaction from leading Iowa Republican politicians. -promoted by Laura Belin

While President Donald Trump engaged in no traditional “welcome” protocols to greet his successor at the White House, he left something even more important for President Joe Biden and for the sake of the nation. What Trump left us is a bestowal of relief, of trust, of hope and of opportunity that could serve us all well for years to come.

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Ernst's words don't match actions on COVID-19 relief for fossil fuels industry

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst told members of the Iowa Farmers Union in June that she’d prefer for fossil fuel companies not to be eligible for COVID-19 relief funds.

However, months earlier she was among only two farm state senators to sign a letter aimed at ensuring that oil, gas, and coal companies would have access to federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

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Donald Trump's oil pandemic

Dan Piller: Senator Joni Ernst and her Republican handlers don’t need to be told what low corn prices do to incumbents in Iowa in election year. -promoted by Laura Belin

President Donald Trump plans to collude with Russian President Vladimir Putin again this year. We don’t need Robert Mueller or another Steele dossier to tell us–Trump told us so last week. He also is working with OPEC.

It all has to do with oil. At stake: Texas’ 38 electoral votes, Iowa’s ethanol industry, any hope of better corn prices, continued low gasoline prices, and U.S. Senator Joni Ernst’s re-election.

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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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Sure, Trump just wanted Grassley to know he's pro-ethanol

President Donald Trump can be called many things, but subtle will never be one of them. Within 24 hours of journalists reporting that Donald Trump, Jr. had agreed to a private, transcribed interview with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the president picked up the phone to let Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley know that he’s very pro-ethanol.

Iowa’s senior senator was delighted.

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Bruce Rastetter still in the running to be Trump's agriculture secretary

Bruce Rastetter visited Trump Tower in New York today, as seen in this photo Craig Robinson posted on Twitter. Since making a fortune in the agriculture sector (large hog lots and ethanol), Rastetter has been among the largest Iowa donors to Republican candidates. He gave the maximum allowable contribution of $2,700 to Trump’s campaign in August, shortly before joining the GOP nominee’s informal agricultural advisory committee, aptly described by Brian Barth as a “who’s who of industrial agriculture advocates.” Rastetter had supported New Jersey Governor Chris Christie before the Iowa caucuses and maxed out to several Republican U.S. senators as well as to Christie’s presidential campaign.

Trump said little about food or agricultural policy during his campaign and has kept people guessing about his favored candidates to run the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rastetter’s name didn’t appear on short lists for the job published in the New York Times or Modern Farmer, but he was mentioned in similar stories by Politico and Successful Farming. Such articles aren’t necessarily accurate; Idaho Governor Butch Otter has confirmed that he is being vetted for secretary of agriculture, and his name wasn’t on any short list that I’ve seen.

I assumed Rastetter was no longer a serious contender for Trump’s cabinet in part because of his connection to Christie, who appeared to have fallen out of favor soon after November 8. Vice President-elect Mike Pence took charge of the transition effort and specifically “assumed oversight of the transition at USDA,” according to Daniel Looker’s November 21 report for Successful Farming.

On the other hand, Rastetter is a frequent and influential adviser to Governor Terry Branstad, whom Trump selected to be U.S. ambassador to China this month. He was backstage during Trump’s December 8 “thank you” rally in Des Moines. Though he doesn’t obsessively brag about his wealth like the president-elect does, Rastetter has a large enough bank balance to fit into a cabinet packed with billionaires and multimillionaires.

Picking Rastetter to run the USDA would reassure biofuels supporters who are deeply concerned that Trump chose opponents of the Renewable Fuel Standard to run the U.S. Department of Energy (former Texas Governor Rick Perry) and the Environmental Protection Agency (Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt). For what it’s worth, Branstad has claimed “Trump personally reassured him that Pruitt ‘is going to be for ethanol.’” If Trump keeps his promises on immigration policy, the agriculture sector may be facing a different set of problems. Barth observed in this Modern Farmer story that deporting millions of undocumented immigrants “would undermine the agricultural workforce and ripple out in the food economy in unforeseen, but likely negative, ways.”

Rastetter is currently president of the Iowa Board of Regents, the governing body for Iowa’s state universities. His six-year term on that body expires in April 2017, and Democrats have enough Iowa Senate seats to block his confirmation, should Branstad appoint him to another term.

UPDATE: Ryan Foley of the Associated Press predicted that Rastetter’s attempt to use Iowa State University to promote a major land acquisition in Tanzania “will be thoroughly re-examined” if Trump names Rastetter to his cabinet. Foley reported in 2012 that Rastetter “blurred the line between his role as investor in AgriSol Energy […] and his position on the Board of Regents” when working with ISU on his company’s “plan to develop 800,000 acres of Tanzanian farmland for crop production.” Bleeding Heartland posted many more links here on Rastetter’s attempted “land grab” in Africa.

Tom Philpott reviewed the top prospects for the USDA job in a December 20 piece for Mother Jones. Rastetter’s not on his list. Philpott considers him a “truly heinous” option for various reasons.

SECOND UPDATE: Speaking to the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble on December 21, Trump spokesperson Jason Miller said, “I do not know if Mr. Rastetter is being considered for a particular post. Obviously he’s someone who comes with a wealth of knowledge and is very well-known in Iowa politics. But [I] don’t have any particular updates on his meeting with transition officials.” (Trump is spending this week at his Florida resort.)

JANUARY UPDATE: After a late push to find a Latino for the USDA position, Trump was supposedly leaning toward former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, according to Politico’s morning “Playbook” on January 2. Marvin G. Perez and Jennifer Jacobs reported for Bloomberg later the same day,

Perdue appears to be emerging from a broad pack of candidates. Trump and his aides have interviewed several others, including former Texas A&M University President Elsa Murano, former Texas U.S. Representative Henry Bonilla, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, former California Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado, Idaho Governor Butch Otter, and North Dakota U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat

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Branstad to be "unofficial" Trump adviser; Bruce Rastetter may have same role

New Jersey journalist Claude Brodesser-Akner had the scoop today for NJ.com: Donald Trump’s soon-to-be-announced economic advisers include Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and “Bruce Rastetter, a multimillionaire livestock and bio-fuel tycoon who insiders say is also a leading candidate to be Trump’s agriculture secretary.” They

will advise Trump on agribusiness and energy policy, according to a source within the Trump campaign who was not authorized to speak publicly about the move.

“There’s a clear nexus between [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie, the Branstads and Rastetter,” explained one Iowa GOP insider familiar with all three men’s dealings with one another but who was fearful of alienating the Iowa governor by speaking out publicly.

Rastetter helped talk Branstad into running for governor again in 2009 and was his campaign’s top donor in 2010. He has exerted substantial influence since Branstad returned to office in 2011, speaking to the governor “at least once a week.” Rastetter tried to recruit Christie to run for president in 2011 and endorsed him in a highly-publicized event last September. Though Branstad did not endorse any presidential candidate before the Iowa caucuses, several people close to him were involved in Christie’s campaign.

Branstad’s spokesperson Ben Hammes confirmed via e-mail that the governor “was asked to advise Mr. Trump in an unofficial role. He will be offering his advice on important issues to Iowa, none more important than renewable fuels.” Iowa Republicans have seized on a recent report by Reuters, suggesting that as president, Hillary Clinton might change federal policy on the Renewable Fuel Standard, a mandate for biofuels blends into gasoline. The governor’s son Eric Branstad is running Trump’s general election campaign in Iowa, having coordinated an ethanol industry group‘s political efforts here before the caucuses.

Hammes declined to comment on Rastetter’s possible role in the Trump campaign or a prospective Trump cabinet. At this writing, Rastetter’s office has not responded to my inquiry. The man often described as an “ethanol baron” sought to enhance his reputation as an authority on agriculture policy last year, when he organized an Iowa Ag Summit, attended by nine presidential hopefuls and a who’s who of Iowa GOP elected officials. Though Rastetter would surely want to have a strong voice in any Republican administration, I have trouble seeing him in a cabinet secretary’s role, with many public events and press availabilities. The way Trump’s poll numbers are looking lately, we will likely never find out whether Rastetter was really the top contender to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

UPDATE: According to Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman, Rastetter met privately with Trump not long before the nominee’s July 28 rally in Cedar Rapids. Excerpts from that story are after the jump, along with comments Hammes provided to Gazette reporter Vanessa Miller.

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IA-04: Joni Ernst is all in for Steve King

Today U.S. Senator Joni Ernst became the third Iowa Republican heavyweight to endorse Representative Steve King, who faces a primary challenge from State Senator Rick Bertrand in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district. Ernst didn’t just allow King’s campaign to announce her support in a statement, she also filmed a short video which I’ve enclosed below, along with a transcript.

Birds can be heard singing in the background as Ernst praises King for supporting life, liberty, the military, four-laning U.S. Highway 20, and the fuel blender tax credit. The sound you can’t hear is the door slamming on Bertrand’s already slim chance to win this primary.

Ernst served with Bertrand in the Iowa Senate GOP caucus from 2011 through 2014, so has observed his political work more closely than most Republicans. She could have stayed neutral, though seven-term incumbent King was heavily favored to win the IA-04 primary even before Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley publicly backed him.

As with Grassley’s endorsement, I wonder whether Ernst wanted to dish out some payback to Nick Ryan, the dark money operative who was recruiting a primary challenger in IA-04 and endorsed Bertrand immediately after the state senator made his campaign official.

Ryan worked for Mark Jacobs during his race against Ernst and others in the 2014 GOP primary for U.S. Senate. (Bruce Rastetter, a frequent ally of Ryan and major ethanol industry figure who is also supporting Bertrand against King, backed Ernst early in that race.)

Bertrand has been promoting himself as someone who will deliver for IA-04 in Congress, rather than trying to be a “national figure.” Last week, he asserted in an interview with the Des Moines Register’s William Petroski that there is widespread “discontentment” with King, who “has gone Washington.” Echoing that talking point, Ryan told Petroski, “I believe we can do better. I want a conservative congressman that cares more about getting things done for his district than booking an appearance on Fox or MSNBC.”

Ryan can raise a lot of money to spend on campaigns, but his track record in Iowa GOP contests is mixed. Unsuccessful candidates who benefited from spending controlled by Ryan include: Jim Gibbons in the 2010 primary for Iowa’s third Congressional district, Annette Sweeney in the 2012 primary for Iowa House district 50, Jacobs in the 2014 Senate primary, Matt Schultz in the 2014 primary for IA-03, and Mike Huckabee before the latest Iowa caucuses.

P.S.-Asked this morning whether he wants “to see King defeated” in June, Governor Terry Branstad replied, “It’s up to the voters to decide in each of these instances and I’ve always had confidence in the voters of Iowa to make a good decision and I will obviously support the Republican nominees,” O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa. Branstad made headlines by calling for Ted Cruz’s defeat less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. King was Cruz’s leading surrogate in Iowa after endorsing the Texas senator for president in November.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa Ag Summit anniversary edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

A year ago this weekend, nine presidential candidates, both of Iowa’s U.S. senators, three of our U.S. House representatives, Governor Terry Branstad, and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds were among the speakers at Bruce Rastetter’s inaugural Iowa Ag Summit. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the early front-runner in the presidential field and had just rolled out his first big batch of endorsements here. Although Donald Trump had recently hired heavyweight conservative organizer Chuck Laudner, few people expected him to be a strong contender for the Iowa caucuses. The billionaire didn’t make it to Rastetter’s event; like Marco Rubio, he initially accepted the Ag Summit invitation but developed schedule conflicts later.

Jeb Bush looked like a strong presidential contender in March 2015. He was raising money like no one else in the GOP field and had hired veteran Iowa political operative David Kochel earlier in the year. The day before the Ag Summit, the Des Moines Register ran a front-page feature on Bush that was so flattering to the former Florida governor, I felt compelled to write this post and begin work on a lengthier critique of the Register’s political coverage, which took nearly two months to complete.

Chris Christie was among the Ag Summit speakers. More than six months later, he picked up endorsements from Rastetter and several other prominent Iowa business Republicans. Christie’s poor performance on caucus night showed the limits of the would-be kingmaker’s influence, and that of others in Branstad’s orbit who had actively supported Christie’s presidential campaign.

Rastetter invited more than a half-dozen prominent Democrats to his Ag Summit. Wisely, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and all of the potential presidential candidates blew off the event. Only one Democrat spoke to the gathering: former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, in her capacity as co-chair of America’s Renewable Future. That group was formed and funded by biofuels companies and related interest groups to advocate for the Renewable Fuel Standard. (Later in 2015, America’s Renewable Future spent more than $100,000 on radio ads and direct mail attacking Ted Cruz over his stand on the ethanol mandate.)

I enclose below a video of Judge’s remarks a year ago this weekend. Near the beginning of her speech, she commented, “Let me say from the outset, I truly believe that I disagree with just almost everyone that you will see on this stage today, on almost every issue. However, I certainly hope that we do agree on the importance of maintaining the Renewable Fuel Standard and keeping Iowa leading our nation forward in the development of renewable fuel.”

I doubt anyone would have predicted a year ago that Walker wouldn’t even make it to the Iowa caucuses, that Trump and Cruz would be leading in the GOP delegate count, or that Judge would enter the race against U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.

P.S.- The Greeley (Colorado) Tribune published a good backgrounder on where all the remaining presidential candidates stand on agricultural issues.

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Iowa GOP caucus-goers deliver big hit to Terry Branstad's clout

Donald Trump was the obvious Republican loser last night. Despite leading in the last ten Iowa polls released before the caucuses, Trump finished more than 6,000 votes and three percentage points behind Ted Cruz, widely perceived before yesterday to have peaked too soon. Record-breaking turnout was supposed to be a winning scenario for Trump, yet a plurality of caucus-goers cast ballots for Cruz as attendance surpassed the previous high-water mark by more than 50 percent.

For Iowa politics watchers, another big takeaway jumped out from the caucus results: Governor Terry Branstad’s advice doesn’t carry much weight with rank and file Republicans.

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Thoughts on the final Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses

Expanded from a short take for CNN

The seventh Republican presidential debate and the first without Donald Trump produced more substantive talk about issues and some strong performances by candidates near the bottom of the pack. For political junkies who missed the debate for whatever reason, the New York Times posted the full transcript here. My thoughts are after the jump.

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Grassley introduces Trump at rally: "We have an opportunity once again to make America great again"

How much do Ted Cruz’s fellow U.S. Senate Republicans not want him to be their party’s standard-bearer? So much that Senator Chuck Grassley introduced Donald Trump at a rally in Pella this afternoon, telling the crowd, “We have an opportunity once again to make America great again.”

Technically, Grassley didn’t endorse Trump for president, and aides for the senator told Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register that Grassley “will introduce Marco Rubio at the candidate’s Iowa rally next Saturday.” Still, it sends a strong message when a politician of Grassley’s stature echoes Trump’s campaign slogan at a rally for Trump. Anna Palmer reported for Politico from Pella,

“I’m excited to be invited to be here. I’m excited as I see so many large crowd at various events around Iowa,” Grassley said. “I’m excited to see the big crowds because of the big energy that comes with it and we’ve got to keep up this energy that’s shown here today and many other places around Iowa because that is what is going to take for us to win back the White House in November.”

Grassley endorsed his Senate colleague Bob Dole before the 1988 and 1996 Iowa caucuses and supported the establishment’s choice George W. Bush before the 2000 caucuses, but he didn’t pick a candidate out of the crowded GOP fields in 2008 or 2012. On January 11, Grassley told Alex Schuman,

“I’ve told all these candidates as long as eight months ago that I wasn’t going to get involved,” he said Monday. “I’ve told them I wasn’t going to back anybody. I think I’m a person who has a great deal of credibility. My word is good.”

Sen. Grassley continued, “I think it would hurt my credibility if I were to step out for that person or any other person right now.”

Speaking to Politico’s Burgess Everett on January 20, Grassley criticized Cruz’s stand on various energy issues and said he respected Governor Terry Branstad’s call the previous day for Iowans to defeat the Texas senator. But Grassley added that he “won’t get political about it” and campaign against Cruz. I wonder what changed his mind over the past few days. My hunch is that some internal polling is showing Cruz way ahead of others in the field. Although Trump is occupying an outsider niche in this presidential race, it could hardly be more clear that Cruz is the candidate most widely hated by the Republican establishment.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: On second thought, leave Grassley out of the “anyone but Cruz” establishment crowd. Shortly after the Trump event, Jason Noble reported for the Des Moines Register, “Several other campaigns – including those of candidates Ben Carson, Chris Christie and Rand Paul – confirmed they had received offers in recent days to appear with Grassley.” On Saturday evening, the Cruz campaign told Teddy Schleifer that Grassley will appear at a Cruz rally on January 29. So the senior senator appears to be making himself available to all the presidential candidates during the final days of the caucus race.

P.S.- Senator Grassley’s grandson, State Representative Pat Grassley, has not endorsed a presidential candidate this cycle. Grassley is the new Iowa House Appropriations Committee chair and widely considered a likely candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture in 2018, assuming the current holder of that office, Bill Northey, runs for governor.

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Terry Branstad's warning about Ted Cruz may backfire in the Iowa caucuses

Governor Terry Branstad has long said he did not plan to endorse a presidential candidate before the Iowa caucuses. But speaking to journalists this morning at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit in Altoona, Branstad said “it would be very damaging to our state” if Ted Cruz wins the caucuses.

The governor’s anti-endorsement could help Cruz more than it hurts him.

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Sorting Through the Job Creation Shenanigans of Politicians and Special Interests

Dave Swenson

Elected officials are keen to flash their job creation scorecard even though local and state government officials don’t really create many jobs. The economy in the aggregate creates the overwhelming majority of jobs, and some of those jobs locate in our cities, counties, and state. For elected officials, though, if it happened on their watch, ipso facto, they’ve created jobs. Credit is always claimed.

When job “creation” (see above) becomes the measure of public service performance, however lacking in substance or result, we inevitably get phony statistics, misleading inferences, or dubious claims. Sometimes politicians cherry-pick the numbers to make the best case possible. And sometimes politicians or their willing accomplices create brand new statistics.

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Corn ethanol under attack, or is it?

(Here's a view you won't hear from Iowa elected officials of either party. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Later this week state and regional agribusiness leaders will gather at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates to cheerlead for corn ethanol.  The agenda for this “Hearing in the Heartland” is to rail against a proposed update to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The bipartisan entrenchment against the update suggests corn ethanol is being somehow threatened, but despite the fanfare it really isn’t.

The EPA’s update to the 2007 law deals mostly with 2nd and 3rd generation biofuels. The proposed volume requirements don't hinder corn ethanol; the grain mandates shifts a few percent as business models tend to do when they are updated after 7 years.  The long-term prospects for next generation biofuels also remain strong. So why an update?  Projections for next generation biofuel have not panned out, yet. Simply put: science & engineering need to catch up to ambitious policy.

Corn ethanol was always meant as a stepping stone to “advanced” biofuels. The RFS update only seriously impedes corn if convoluted math is done to figure corn as the stop-gap filler for our old overestimates for next generation biofuels. Vested interests want to double-down on endless growth in corn ethanol, but they have lost sight of the long game amidst a tangled web of conflict-of-interest.  

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Senate votes to repeal ethanol tax credit; Grassley and Harkin vote no

Two days after rejecting a similar measure, the Senate voted today to repeal a key ethanol tax credit as of July 1:

[Democratic Senator Dianne] Feinstein’s amendment to an economic development bill would quickly end the credit of 45 cents for each gallon of ethanol that fuel blenders mix into gasoline. The credit led to $5.4 billion inforegone revenue last year, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The amendment also ends the 54-cent per gallon import tariff that protects the domestic ethanol industry.

Thursday’s vote was a turnaround from Tuesday, when just 40 senators voted for [Republican Senator Tom] Coburn’s identical amendment, well shy of the 60 needed to advance it.

But the politics of Tuesday’s battle were clouded by Democratic anger at Coburn’s surprise procedural move last week that set up the vote. Democratic leaders had whipped against the amendment heading into Tuesday’s vote, but two aides said they did not do so ahead of the vote Thursday.

Both Iowans in the Senate voted against the Feinstein amendment, which passed 73 to 27 (roll call). Tom Harkin was one of 13 Democrats to vote no, and Chuck Grassley was one of 14 Republicans to vote no. Most of the opposition came from significant corn-producing states.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called today’s Senate vote “ill advised” and warned that jobs would be lost. His full statement is after the jump. I will update this post with reaction from Harkin and Grassley if it becomes available. Their comments on Tuesday’s ethanol vote are here.

UPDATE: Philip Brasher writes for the Des Moines Register,

The vote was largely symbolic in that the House is expected to reject the provision because tax measures are supposed to originate in the House, not in the Senate. But the sweeping defeat was a powerful indication of how the industry’s once legendary political clout on Capitol Hill has all but disappeared because of  the federal deficit and concerns about the impact of the biofuel on food prices and the environment. The subsidy and tariff are due to expire at the end of the year and the industry is trying to continue some kind of subsidy after that  to go with the annual usage mandates that require refiners  to add ethanol to gasoline. The mandate rises each year until 2015 before leveling off at 15 billion gallons. […]

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said that the rising cost of food is a sleeper issue around the country and that the vote to kill the ethanol subsidy was a “vote to lower food prices and to lower the national debt.” […]

The ethanol industry did achieve one victory today when the Senate rejected, 59-41,  a proposal by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to block the Obama administration from subsidizing the installation of ethanol pumps and storage tanks. However, the House approved a similar measure 283-128 earlier in the day as part of an appropriations bill for the Agriculture Department. That Senate vote’s important, however, because it shows the industry has support there for shifting at least some of the  federal aid it’s now getting into infrastructure subsidies, according to energy policy analyst Kevin Book.

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Grassley, Harkin vote no as Senate defeats amendment on ethanol

Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin both voted to preserve a key ethanol tax credit today, as an effort to end that credit six months early fell way short of the 60 votes needed in the U.S. Senate. Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma had submitted an amendment to repeal the 45-cent-per-gallon volumetric ethanol excise tax credit for ethanol blenders as of July 1. The credit is scheduled to expire at the end of 2011. Coburn’s amendment “also would have eliminated a 54 cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol,” saving the federal government approximately $2.7 billion total. Only 40 senators (34 Republicans and six who caucus with Democrats) voted for a cloture motion on Coburn’s amendment. Grassley and Harkin were among the 59 senators (13 Republicans and 46 who caucus with Democrats) who voted against cloture; click here for the roll call.

Today’s vote might have been much closer had Coburn not used unusual Senate procedures to force the legislation to the floor. Democratic Senate leaders whipped the vote against Coburn’s amendment, bringing around some Democrats who oppose ethanol subsidies. Democrat Dianne Feinstein, a co-sponsor of the Coburn amendment, nonetheless voted no on today’s cloture motion and said publicly, “If it weren’t for the process, we would have 60 votes.” Feinstein had urged Coburn “to withdraw his amendment and wait until next week” for a Senate vote.

Most of the Republicans who voted against the Coburn amendment represent large corn-producing states. A major anti-tax group’s opposition to the measure may have peeled off a few GOP votes as well. Grover Norquist’s group Americans for Tax Reform argued that eliminating any tax credit without simultaneously adding new tax cuts amounts to a tax increase.

Ethanol supporters also reduced support for Coburn’s amendment by introducing a rival proposal yesterday. Harkin and Grassley are both co-sponsoring the new bipartisan Senate legislation:

While Coburn’s language would completely eliminate the subsidy, the pro-ethanol proposal would cut off the subsidy on July 1, and replace it with a variable subsidy that fluctuates with the price of oil. […]

Under this proposal, ethanol blenders would get no subsidy at all when oil prices are above $90 a barrel. If oil falls to between $80 and $90 a barrel, they would get a six cents per gallon subsidy. Another six cents would be added for each $10 drop in the price of oil, and a maximum subsidy of 30 cents a gallon could be received when oil falls to $50 a barrel or less (a summary of the bill is here).

That’s still less than the current 45 cents a gallon subsidy that ethanol blenders receive currently, regardless of the price of oil.

Proponents of the bill say ending the current system on July 1 and moving to a variable subsidy would save $2.5 billion. In a nod to Coburn and his supporters, the bill would use $1 billion of that for deficit reduction.

The rest would be used for the variable subsidy, but also for the development of ethanol infrastructure and other incentives. For example, the bill would expand tax credits to ethanol blender pumps, and extend through 2014 the small producer ethanol credit.

After the jump I’ve posted Grassley’s floor statement against the Coburn amendment and his comments released after today’s vote. I will update this post if I see official comment from Harkin.

UPDATE: Added Harkin’s statement praising the Senate for rejecting “this misguided amendment.” The Iowa Environmental Council reminds us that the government’s pro-ethanol policy has unintended consequences for water quality.

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IA-01: Braley seeks more ag power over environmental rules

Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01) has introduced a bipartisan bill to put more people “with agricultural backgrounds” on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board. The full press release from Braley’s office is after the jump. Excerpt:

“Our farmers must have a voice when it comes to their life’s work,” said Congressman Braley. “This bill will give them a chance to bring some common sense to EPA regulations that have an effect on them every single day.”

The EPA Science Advisory Board provides analysis and recommendations for EPA regulations and other technical matters that often impact agriculture. Farmers have become increasingly concerned that EPA decisions are creating unnecessary and undue economic hardship. For example, proposals to regulate dust on farms have raised concerns. Braley recently voted to protect Iowa farms from these burdensome federal dust regulations.

I don’t know the details on the proposed dust rules. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has spoken with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson about the issue and has urged farmers not to worry about excessive regulation of dust clouds on farms.

From where I’m sitting, it’s a bad time for Congress to pick on the EPA Science Advisory Board. While Braley implies EPA regulations are lacking in “common sense,” I see an agency that has recently backed off from protecting public health in order to appease certain industries and political opponents.

Here in Iowa, the last thing we need is another politician arguing that environmental regulations threaten farmers. Iowans with agricultural backgrounds have long been well represented on environmental regulatory and advisory bodies in this state. Now our Republican governor has handed over the state Environmental Protection Commission to agribusiness advocates and may move all water quality and monitoring programs to the agriculture department, something that hasn’t been done anywhere else in the country. Braley doesn’t seem too aware of the relationship between agricultural pollution and Iowa’s water quality problems; last year he supported a proposed expansion of a Scott County hog confinement despite evidence that the operator had previously violated manure discharge rules.

Braley’s press release names several agricultural groups supporting his new legislation. Perhaps this bill will help bolster his position as a voice for Iowa farmers. He lost most of the rural counties in his district in the 2010 election (pdf), and Iowa’s forthcoming four-district map will add more rural counties to the first Congressional district.

Braley has long championed the biofuels industry. He received the Iowa Corn Growers Association endorsement last year and won praise from the Renewable Fuels Association last month for “raising awareness about the anti-ethanol, anti-fuel choice agenda of some members of Congress.” (Braley clashed with Republican Representative Tom Latham (IA-04) over an amendment to confirm the EPA’s power to implement the Renewable Fuels Standard.) However, the Iowa Farm Bureau didn’t endorse a candidate in IA-01 last year. Although the American Farm Bureau supports Braley’s new bill on the EPA Science Advisory Board, I doubt the Iowa Farm Bureau would back him in 2012, especially if redistricting pits him against Latham. Braley voted for the 2009 climate change bill that the Farm Bureau strongly opposed and helped to bury in the Senate.

Incidentally, Representative Leonard Boswell (IA-03) was among the House Agriculture Committee Democrats who lobbied successfully to weaken the climate change bill’s impact on agriculture. I don’t recall Braley getting involved in that fight.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: On March 16 Braley and Boswell jointly introduced an amendment to preserve federal funding for “local governments and organizations to purchase and renovate foreclosed properties for resale in rural communities.” The press release on that amendment is after the jump.

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Iowa reaction to U.S. House spending cuts

The U.S. House approved a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through September 30 by a 235 to 189 vote at 4:40 am Saturday morning. The bill contains about $61.5 billion in spending cuts; it “would kill more than 100 [federal] programs and cut funding for hundreds more.” The roll call shows remarkable party unity; all but three House Republicans voted for the bill, and every Democrat present voted against it. Iowa’s representatives voted along the usual party lines.

Much of the language in this continuing resolution will never become law. President Barack Obama has already threatened to veto the House bill, and the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate is working on its own continuing resolution with roughly $25 billion to $41 billion in spending cuts. Some signs point toward a federal government shutdown, but House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan says House Republicans are not seeking that outcome. Quinn Bowman and Linda Scott further note:

To make time for the negotiations between the two chambers, yet another short term [continuing resolution] might need to be passed – which brings up another wrinkle: as time passes and the fiscal year gets shorter and shorter, Republicans set on cutting billions from the rest of the year’s budget will have a smaller pie to slice as money is spent.

Many House Democrats denounced the Republican budget cuts, but I didn’t see any of them acknowledge the failure to pass 2011 budget bills when Democrats still controlled both chambers of Congress. U.S. Senate Republicans blocked the Democratic omnibus spending bill during the lame-duck session in December, setting the stage for the current budget brinksmanship. None of these fiscal 2011 spending cuts would be on the table if Congress had passed budget bills on time last year.

After the jump I’ve posted the five Iowa House representatives’ statements on the House continuing resolution for fiscal year 2011. All include themes we are likely to hear during the 2012 Congressional campaigns. Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) embraced the principle of reducing government spending, but argued that the GOP plan would eliminate jobs here and undermine the national economic recovery. I noticed that Boswell is holding a roundtable discussion about transportation on February 22; expect him to warn of the dire consequences of proposed GOP spending cuts.

Braley’s comment on the continuing resolution warned that the proposal “will kill thousands of jobs in Iowa’s ethanol industry.” In that vein, I’ve also enclosed below his statement from February 16, touting an amendment he proposed to “safeguard the Renewable Fuel Standard.” The Environmental Protection Agency issued its final rule on the Renewable Fuel Standard earlier this month. Braley asserts that the continuing resolution blocks the EPA “from setting renewable fuel standards for 2012,” and industry groups are worried. House leaders ruled Braley’s amendment out of order, and Republican Tom Latham (IA-04) argued that the language prohibiting the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases would not affect the ethanol industry in any way. At The Iowa Republican blog, Craig Robinson says Braley “didn’t understand what he was talking about,” while Bleeding Heartland user SamuelJKirkwood claims here that Latham was misinformed or ignoring the facts. If that portion of the continuing resolution becomes law, we’ll find out later this year who was correct (either ethanol industry jobs will disappear or they won’t). Iowans are likely to hear more about this issue during the 2012 campaign, especially if the new map throws Braley and Latham into the same district.

Latham’s statement on the continuing resolution praised Congress for starting down “the road less traveled,” passing “some of the biggest spending cuts in the history of Congress.” He did some sleight of hand: “I joined a majority of my colleagues […] to vote in favor of cutting $100 billion in federal spending over the president’s funding request for the current fiscal year.” Jamie Dupree explains,

As for the budget cuts in this bill, Republicans persisted in calling this a cut of over $100 billion – but that figure is misleading, as it compares the bill’s spending levels to President Obama’s budget from last year, which was never enacted by the Congress.

It’s worth noting that Latham didn’t stand with the most ambitious House GOP axe-wielders. He was among 92 Republicans who joined Democrats to reject an amendment containing $22 billion more in cuts. Without elaborating, Latham described that proposal as “not thoughtful.” (As opposed to, say, zeroing out federal support for the Public Broadcasting Service or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change–very thoughtful!)

The statement from Republican Steve King (IA-05) focused on his own successful amendments to the continuing resolution, which prohibit the use of federal funding “to implement and enforce ObamaCare.” King has consistently been one of the loudest voices in the House for repealing or otherwise blocking the health insurance reform law approved last March. Incidentally, unlike Latham, King voted for that amendment proposing to cut an additional $22 billion from current-year spending.

I haven’t seen any statement from Senator Chuck Grassley regarding the House GOP’s spending cut plans. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin has been on a tear for days, blasting how the House continuing resolution would affect health care in Iowa, employment and training in Iowa, the Social Security Administration in Iowa, education in Iowa, and so on.

Share any thoughts about the federal budget or the political debate over spending cuts in this thread.

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Tom Latham's shrill ignorance and attacks on Iowa ethanol

(Expect this to become a 2012 campaign issue if Iowa's new Congressional district map pits Braley against Latham. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

On February 16, 2011, Congressman Tom Latham stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and made a complete fool of himself while simultaneously attacking the Iowa ethanol industry.  It’s not clear if Latham just didn’t read the amendment he was attacking, if his staff gave him bad analysis, or if he is so desperate to attack Congressman Bruce Braley, who sponsored the amendment, that he ignored all of the facts and the numerous ethanol and renewable fuels organizations who were aggressively encouraging lawmakers to support it.

Check out the video and see how Latham breathlessly goes on and on about the common sense amendment, it’s pretty astonishing:

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Ethanol Case Study: Iowa

Yesterday there was an analysis of corn ethanol production in Iowa at the energy blog, The Oil Drum.  It discussed production and consumption, as well as the chances for Iowa to be self-sufficient in fuels.  Here is an excerpt:

Iowa is a state that by all accounts should be able to satisfy their own liquid fuel needs with ethanol, and still have some left for export. They are perhaps unique in the U.S. in that respect. Instead, petroleum continues to supply over 90% of the motor fuel in Iowa, and virtually all of the fuel used in the farm equipment for growing all of that corn. Something is wrong with this picture.

 I highly recommend the whole article.

Offshore drilling

I am sitting here watching CNN,  Sanjay Gupta is on AC360, and they have announced that the people working on that drilling rig that is leaking thousands of gallons of oil a day?  The big fear is that the entire drilling system and pipes may break off,  and then there will be no way of stopping the millions of gallons of oil from gushing out.  I am just sick at heart.  This is precisely why so many people did not want offshore drilling.  They have proven in Valdez, AK that even after years and years,  they still see the results of the oil there.  What would millions of gallons of oil do to the wildlife preserves and coastline? 

We have other options.  Wyoming,  western Colorado, Montana, etc.  love to have large companies come in and drill.  They drill for oil, they crack the shale for natural gas, the towns and schools are happy for the jobs, incomes, and businesses.  Of course,  the sewage system, the schools, etc.  need some time to adapt. But I grew up in Colorado, I have seen the boom for oil and gas in Colorado.  We can begin to switch vehicles to CNG,  we have LPG, drill for oil in Texas and the northern states.  We need to leave ANWR alone and drill out in the vast plains where the population is very low and towns and businesses are happy to have them.  We have wind towers in Iowa,  hemp is great for cloth and rope.  But all of that leftover hemp plant?  Great for ethanol.  Its time to start the switch away from oil.  Brazil has done it.  It took about 20 years, but they are completely off of foreign oil. 

Anyway, I am just sick at heart.  There is not enough Dawn in the world to treat every bird, the shorelines, the oyster beds, shrimp beds, etc. 

Organic farmer plans to run for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture (updated)

It’s not yet clear whether Iowa’s Republican Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey, will seek re-election in 2010 or run against Governor Chet Culver instead. But at least one Democrat appears ready to seek Northey’s job next year.

Francis Thicke, an organic dairy farmer near Fairfield with a Pd.D. in agronomy and soil fertility, announced yesterday that he has formed an Exploratory Committee to consider running for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. I’ve posted the press release from Thicke after the jump. One of his top priorities would be expanding local food networks:

“Growing more of our food in Iowa represents a multi-billion dollar economic development opportunity.”  This potential economic activity could “create thousands of new jobs and help revitalize rural communities in Iowa, as well as provide Iowans with fresh, nutritious food,” said Thicke.

Thicke would be an outstanding asset to Iowa as Secretary of Agriculture. A working farmer and expert on many agricultural policy issues, he currently serves on Iowa’s USDA State Technical Committee and has an impressive list of publications. In the past he has served on the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, the Iowa Food Policy Council, and the Iowa Organic Standards Board.

He has also won awards including “the Activist Award from the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Outstanding Pasture Management award from the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Friend of the Earth award from the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington, D.C.”

Here’s an interview Thicke gave in 2003 about his organic dairy operation. He also wrote this piece on the benefits of pasture-based dairies for CounterPunch in 2004. I found a YouTube video of Thicke speaking about livestock farming in Pella last year.

Thicke’s relationship with the Culver administration is strained, to put it mildly. He did not go quietly when Culver declined to reappoint him to the Environmental Protection Commission. In addition, Thicke is a strong advocate for “local control” of confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge opposes and Culver has not pursued as governor.

If Thicke runs for Secretary of Agriculture, his campaign is likely to become a focal point for environmentalists who aren’t satisfied with our current Democratic leadership in Iowa.

UPDATE: Denise O’Brien responded to my request for a comment on Thicke’s candidacy:

I have pledged my support to Francis. He has an excellent background to be a strong leader of our state agriculture department. His depth of knowledge of agriculture and natural resource management gives him credibility when it comes to truly understanding the relationship of agriculture to the rest of the world. It is my intention to work hard to get Francis elected.

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Highlights and analysis of the Vilsack confirmation hearing

Tom Vilsack appears to be on track for unanimous confirmation by the Senate as Secretary of Agriculture in Barack Obama’s cabinet. At his confirmation hearing yesterday, Republicans didn’t ask hostile questions, and Vilsack didn’t have to explain away any embarrassing behavior like Treasury Secretary-nominee Timothy Geithner’s failure to fully meet his tax obligations over a period of years.

Despite the lack of drama, Vilsack made a number of noteworthy comments during the hearing. Here are some highlights.

Vilsack told senators on Wednesday that

The Obama administration wants to accelerate the development of new versions of biofuels made form crop residue and non-food crops such as switchgrass. The plants’ fibrous material, or cellulose, can be converted into alcohols or even new versions of gasoline or diesel.

“Moving toward next-generation biofuels, cellulosic ethanol, is going to be really important in order to respond” to concerns about the impact on food prices of using grain for fuel, he said.

Vilsack addressed a range of other issues, pledging, for example, to promote fruit and vegetable consumption and promising to ensure that any new international trade agreement is a “net plus for all of agriculture.”

It makes a lot of sense to produce ethanol from perennial plants that are less energy-intensive to grow and need fewer herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer than corn.

Vilsack’s opening statement also

promised swift implementation of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) which, alone among farm bill conservation programs, has languished under the Bush Administration since passage of the 2008 Farm Bill last May.

A little later during the hearing, Vilsack described the Conservation Stewardship Program as important for the environment and cited its potential to boost farm income and create jobs.

By the way, Vilsack’s disclosure documents show that he collects payments from the US Department of Agriculture on some Iowa farmland he and his wife own:

The former Iowa governor and his wife, Christie, have been receiving payments since 2000 for an acreage in Davis County that is enrolled in the land-idling Conservation Reserve Program, according to USDA data compiled by the Environmental Working Group.

In a Jan. 8 letter to USDA ethics officials, Vilsack said he would seek a waiver to continue receiving CRP payments while he is secretary. Otherwise, experts said, he would have to break his contract and reimburse the USDA for all previous payments he has received, which would total nearly $60,000.

Craig Cox, Midwest vice president of the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, welcomed having an agriculture secretary who receives conservation payments.

At a time “when simultaneously protecting our soil, water, wildlife habitat and climate is an urgent priority, it is encouraging that our new secretary of agriculture is personally participating in a conservation program that does just that,” he said.

I’m with Cox; it’s good for the secretary of agriculture to have first-hand knowledge of the conservation reserve program’s value.

Earlier this week the Register published an article on the opening statement Vilsack prepared for his confirmation hearing:

Tom Vilsack is promising to use the U.S. Department of Agriculture to “aggressively address” global warming and energy independence.

In an opening statement prepared for his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for agriculture secretary also said he would use the department to “create real and meaningful opportunities” for farmers and to guarantee that rural communities grow and prosper. […]

Vilsack, a former mayor of Mount Pleasant, also said rural communities continue to lose population and “find it increasingly difficult to keep pace with the ever-changing national and global economy.”

He pledged to try to resolve the long-standing civil rights claims against the department.

“If I’m confirmed, the message will be clear: discrimination in any form will not be tolerated,” Vilsack said.

After reading that Register article, La Vida Locavore’s Jill Richardson commented,

I want to see our subsidy structure change to reward farmers for sustainability instead of yield. I want the government to ease the financial risk on any farmer transitioning to organic because it appears to me that being an organic farmer isn’t so bad on your bank account, but transitioning alone might break several farmers financially. I want to outlaw CAFOs altogether. But will Vilsack do this? Let me just say this: I am so confident he won’t that I promise now to entirely shave my head if he DOES do each of these 3 things.

I think we can all agree that Jill is not going to look like Sinead O’Connor anytime soon. I totally agree with her first two suggestions. As for CAFOs, it’s not realistic to expect them to be banned, but I believe they would be greatly reduced in number and size (over time) if government policy made them pay for the harm they cause.

On a more encouraging note, I read this at the U.S. Food Policy blog:

Some highlights included Vilsack’s encouragement of locally grown fruits and vegetables and pronouncement that they should be grown not just in rural areas, but everywhere. He announced that he met with Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle last week in order to demonstrate the importance of working together for nutrition. “It’s going to be important for us to promote fresh fruits and vegetables as part of our children’s diets. . .that means supporting those who supply those products” and making it easier for consumers to buy locally grown products, Vilsack said.

Maybe Vilsack and Daschle will take some of Angie Tagtow’s excellent advice on how their agencies can work together to improve human health. I would also encourage them to read this recent piece by Steph Larsen: “For healthy food and soil, we need affordable health care for farmers.”

I am curious about what Vilsack means by “supporting those who supply” locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables. One problem with our current agricultural policy is that commodity farmers lose all federal subsidies if they put more than two acres into growing fruits or vegetables. Apparently that was the price needed to get California’s Congressional delegation to vote for various farm bills over the years. Even though almost no subsidies go directly to California farmers, this penalty limits the competition California growers might otherwise face from Midwestern farmers.

So, very little of the produce consumed by Iowans is grown in Iowa, and our grocery stores are full of produce trucked in from thousands of miles away. Most of the crops Iowa farmers grow are inedible for humans without processing.

A few years back the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University published a report on “Food, Fuel and Freeways.” It showed how far food travels to Iowans and how much Iowans could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions if we increased the proportion of locally-grown food in our diets to even 10 percent of what we eat.

Getting back to the Vilsack hearing, members of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee made some notable comments yesterday. who questioned Vilsack made some notable comments on Wednesday. Iowa’s own Tom Harkin, who chairs the committee, gave Vilsack a warm welcome:

“I just couldn’t be more proud to see you sitting there. I don’t think President-elect [Barack] Obama could have picked a better person for this position,” Harkin said.

Harkin also discussed federal child nutrition programs:

Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin , D-Iowa, said reauthorization of a law (PL 108-265) governing school lunches and other child nutrition programs “is really the only thing that we have to do this year.” […]

During the hearing, Harkin said he will propose that the Department of Agriculture use Institute of Medicine guidelines to set standards for junk food sold in schools. Current USDA school food standards exempt most snack foods, because they aren’t a part of subsidized lunches.

During the last renewal of the child nutrition act, then-Gov. Vilsack wrote a letter to lawmakers and the Bush administration expressing concern about childhood obesity and the problem of vending machine snacks that compete with school meals.

At the time, Vilsack backed limits on the kinds of snacks and beverages students can buy outside the lunch line. Nutrition advocates want junk food kicked out of schools, but many schools use the cash from sales to cover the rising costs of meal services.

(Side note: the state of Iowa is now considering banning the sale of junk food in public schools.)

Meanwhile, Iowa’s Republican Senator Chuck Grassley urged Vilsack to act quickly on several other fronts, including rule-making that would protect smaller volume livestock producers. Also, Grassley and Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota wrote an open letter to Vilsack asking him to close a loophole affecting commodity program payment limits. Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, explains that “This particular loophole is the single most important one allowing mega farming operations to collect payments in multiples of what otherwise appears to be the statutory dollar limit.”

According to Hoefner,

Another former chairman, Pat Leahy (D-VT), weighed in with a comment that the Department is not keeping up with the rapid growth of organic and then with a question asking whether it wasn’t time for the Department to get on with the business of actually actively promoting organic.  Vilsack said we need to “celebrate and support” organic and USDA should view it as one very legitimate option in a menu of options for improving farm incomes.  Then, in response to an extended monologue from Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) deriding organic as marginal, Vilsack held his ground, but diffused the implied antagonism, saying the Department needs to support the full diversity of American agriculture.

The Ethicurean blog published an excerpt of Roberts’ insult to “small family farmers”:

That small family farmer is about 5’2″ … and he’s a retired airline pilot and sits on his porch on a glider reading Gentleman’s Quarterly – he used to read the Wall Street Journal but that got pretty drab – and his wife works as stock broker downtown. And he has 40 acres, and he has a pond and he has an orchard and he grows organic apples. Sometimes there is a little more protein in those apples than people bargain for, and he’s very happy to have that.

How disappointing that an imbecile like this could easily get re-elected in Kansas. Roberts’ caricature does not resemble any of the sustainable farmers I know. They work just as hard as Roberts’ idealized “production agriculture farmer” but don’t receive any federal subsidies, despite growing high-quality food and being good stewards of the land.

If you haven’t already done so, please go to the Food Democracy Now site and sign their new petition recommending 12 good candidates for undersecretary positions at the USDA. These will be important appointments, since Vilsack won’t single-handedly be setting the USDA’s policy direction.

The Center for Rural Affairs has also launched a petition worth signing, which urges Vilsack to implement a number of programs that would benefit farmers and rural economies.

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McCain vs. Iowa Republicans on ethanol

The Iowa Democratic Party released the sixth video in its “McCain vs. Iowa” series today, focusing on McCain’s opposition to ethanol subsidies.

It begins with a clip of McCain from last week’s presidential debate, affirming that he would end ethanol subsidies. The video goes on to show how this stand puts McCain at odds with prominent Iowa Republicans and on the side of big oil companies.

After the jump you can read the script of this video as well as an IDP release providing background information on this issue.

You can view previous installments of the “McCain vs. Iowa” videos here:


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McCain not giving up on Iowa?

You would think that John McCain would realize Iowa is a lost cause for him. George Bush won the state by about 10,000 votes (out of 1.5 million cast) in 2004, when registered Republicans slightly outnumbered Democrats. Now Iowa has 100,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.

Moreover, five separate polls in the past month have shown Barack Obama above the 50 percent mark in Iowa and leading McCain by at least 10 points. Only the Big Ten Battleground poll showed this state tied.

I figured that the recent McCain/Palin rally in Cedar Rapids was the last Iowans would see of the Republican ticket this year.

However, McCain is still running television ads in Iowa, and to my surprise, McCain visited Des Moines yesterday. Several Republicans quoted in this story by the Associated Press insist that the race is still close enough for McCain to win Iowa. I have my doubts, but if he wants to waste time and money here, that’s fine by me.

While McCain was in Des Moines, he met with the Register’s editorial board. Click here to watch video from that interview.

The same day, Governor Chet Culver held a press conference in Des Moines to chastise McCain for opposing ethanol subsidies. A press release from Barack Obama’s campaign is after the jump.

I believe that McCain’s opposition to ethanol subsidies is the main reason he underperforms in rural Iowa (along with the fact that he skipped the caucuses in 2000 and 2008).

I would still like to hear from Bleeding Heartland readers regarding McCain’s field offices in Iowa. Are they still up and running in your area? Do they seem empty or focused on other Republican candidates? The McCain office in Iowa City was reportedly abandoned not long ago. Please post a comment in this thread, or e-mail me at desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

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Come hear Al Gore at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner

The Iowa Democratic Party announced yesterday that Al Gore will be the keynote speaker at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner, to be held on Saturday, October 4, 2008 at Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines.

Tickets to the event are available at www.iowademocrats.org, or you can call 515-974-1691.

I saw Gore at the 1994 Jefferson Jackson Dinner. He managed to deliver a great speech despite hobbling around on crutches due to an Achilles tendon injury.

I hope Gore will bring Iowa Democrats the message of his major policy address in July: we can meet our electricity needs with clean, renewable sources of energy.

We need his voice on energy policy. While Iowa Democratic politicians have been quick to embrace ethanol and other biofuels, they have been slow to recognize that new coal-fired power plants would impose unacceptably high environmental, economic and health costs on our citizens.

Mailer from 527 group hits Fallon over ethanol

The day after I received a misleading hit piece on Ed Fallon, a second mailer from the 527 group Independent Voices arrived in the mail.

This one shows a cornfield on one side, with these words in large print:

Why Doesn’t Ed Fallon

Support Iowa’s

Ethanol Industry?

At the bottom of that side, it says, “Paid for By Independent Voices, Red Brannan Chair”

The other side has corn kernels in the background, as well as a photo of Fallon and a graphic of a container for gasoline with corn flowing out of the spout. The text on this page says,


Helping Us Become Independent of Foreign Oil

Iowa’s ability to produce corn efficiently has helped us become the national leader for ethanol production.

Alternative fuels are one way to end our dependence on Middle East oil. Ending that oil dependence could also revitalize Iowa’s economy if we are able to continue our national leadership in alternative fuel production.

So why did Ed Fallon say he wouldn’t support subsidies for ethanol production right here in Iowa?

Call Ed at 515.277.0420

Tell Ed Fallon he should quit supporting policies that cost us money at the pump.

Of course, this direct-mail piece doesn’t tell the whole story. Many people think subsidies to support corn-based ethanol production are no longer needed. Fallon advocates moving toward producing ethanol from cellulosic sources other than corn, and there are strong arguments in favor of doing so.

I mentioned in my earlier post that Fallon’s position on other issues (besides the ones mentioned in these mailers) run counter to the interests of Brannan, a developer.

If anyone has information about other donors who are funding the Independent Voices group, please either put up a comment in this thread or e-mail me confidentially at desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

UPDATE: The fliers sent by Independent Voices are discussed in this article from Thursday’s Des Moines Register:

Fallon supports ethanol subsidies, although he has said corn-based ethanol is not a permanent solution to weaning the United States off imported petroleum. “Corn-based ethanol is a step in the right direction, but it’s not the end of that journey,” Fallon said.

The mailers list the group’s chairman as Red Brannan, an Ankeny Democrat and former member of the Polk County Board of Supervisors. Aides to Boswell said Brannan has not made financial contributions to the campaign. Attempts to reach Brannan Wednesday evening were unsuccessful.

I believe that Brannan has not donated directly to Boswell’s campaign, because I couldn’t find his name when I searched for it at Open Secrets.

Remember, a person can make unlimited donations to a group like Independent Voices, whereas contributions to a Congressional campaign are capped at $2,300 for the primary and $2,300 for the general election.

The Des Moines Register’s editorial board slammed the first mailing from Independent Voices as “the cheapest of cheap shots” and has called on Boswell to reject the tactics used by Brannan’s group.

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Boswell and Fallon clash over ethanol

The campaigns of Congressman Leonard Boswell and challenger Ed Fallon put out very different statements about ethanol on Thursday.

This isn’t the first time the candidates have clashed over agriculture policy. In general, Boswell is happy with our federal farm policies and touts how hard he is working to keep them the way they are.

Fallon would like to see a shift toward more support of local food networks and sustainable agriculture, as well as more regulations to address the economic, public health and environmental problems caused by confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Join me after the jump for more discussion of the ethanol issue.

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Grassley floats the worst idea I've heard in a while

Way back before Tom Harkin was elected to the Senate, Iowa had two Republican senators: Roger Jepsen and Chuck Grassley. We used to call them “Tweedle Dumb” and “Tweedle Dumber.”

For those of you too young to remember, Tweedle Dumb lost to Harkin despite the massive Reagan landslide of 1984. His campaign faltered when it became public knowledge that he had frequented “massage parlors.” Why did it become public knowledge? Because Tweedle Dumb used his personal credit card to pay for the massage parlor services.

But I digress.

It's easy to forget Chuck Grassley was ever known as Tweedle Dumber, but I remembered when I saw this piece in the Des Moines Register:

Grassley: Ethanol plants should use coal

Responding to worries that the ethanol boom will drive up the price of natural gas used to power the ethanol plants, Grassley had a brilliant idea:

“We’ve got to use things that we have in greater supply. We need to use more coal in place of natural gas,” Grassley said Tuesday.


Noneed4thneed comments that using coal to produce ethanol negates any environmental benefit from the renewable fuel. If you're not reducing greenhouse gases, then the only benefit of ethanol is that it helps Iowa farmers. He wonders, “Why limit the benefits?”

Well, maybe Grassley has no concern for the environment and no interest in reducing greenhouse gases. Instead, his ingenious plan would please the corporate interests that profit from coal as well as the corporate interests that stand to profit from ethanol.

Or maybe Tweedle Dumber really does care about the environment and is too dim to understand why it makes no sense to use coal in ethanol production. 

Senator Grassley, do everyone a favor and retire. Maybe you can get an ethanol-powered riding mower to demonstratively mow your own lawn with.

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Renewable Is Not a Synonym for Sustainable

Cross-posted from the blog — cman.

This is a good mantra for the times.  Keep reciting it to yourself… Renewable  is not a synonym for sustainable. Letter to the Editor of the Des Moines Register from Dale Shires of Iowa City.

One of my dad’s maxims was “never buy or sell hay.” Buying hay might bring in the seeds of weeds we had spent years trying to control; selling hay removed tons of nutrients without replacing it with commensurate manure.Thousands of years of unharvested prairie had built the rich silt loam. The first 75 years of diversified, value-added farming saw mainly livestock and livestock products leave a nearly-level farm, using no commercial fertilizer, yet with ever-increasing yields.

We began raising soybeans during World War II, rotating and covering about one-fifth of the acreage each year. By 1954, soil tests showed a need for phosphate fertilizer. (The southwest Iowa soils were high in potassium and we inoculated the beans for nitrogen fixation.)

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