Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey already had to wait an awfully long time for his anticipated nomination to an important USDA position. Now his final appointment may have to wait even longer. Politico reported today that Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has placed a hold on Northey’s nomination before the Senate Agriculture Committee, despite widespread support for the Iowan.
The long-running conflict between the oil and ethanol industries was suggested to be the cause.
“Northey’s name had moved out of the Senate Agriculture Committee by voice vote, but multiple sources in the refining industry told ME [Morning Energy] that the holdup was a ‘reaction’ to the way Iowa Republican Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley intensely pressured EPA into protecting Renewable Fuel Standard volume requirements,” Anthony Andragna of Politico reported.
It’s the second time in as many weeks that Iowa Republican leaders have had to grapple with members of their own party at the national level over ethanol’s role in the country’s energy plans. Senator Mike Lee of Utah, another major supporter of the oil and gas industries, placed a hold as well on Northey, but withdrew it Wednesday afternoon.
But with Ted Cruz involved, is there even more to it than that?
The conservative Texan won the Iowa Caucus back in January of 2016, setting himself up as the main opponent to Donald Trump in the later primaries. But Cruz had to overcome very significant opposition from Iowa’s agricultural leaders and ethanol promoters due to his long history of opposition to the RFS (including co-sponsoring a Senate bill to repeal it) and donations he’d gotten from the oil industry. At the Iowa Ag Summit in early 2015, Cruz told farmers to their face that he would not support the RFS guidelines. Former Governor Terry Branstad even went so far as to encourage Iowans to vote against Cruz (seen at the time as helping Trump) out of fear of what a Cruz presidency would mean to Iowa agriculture.
Northey is one of the biggest ethanol promoters in the country, and his appointment to the USDA would provide a powerful voice within the department to defend Iowa’s interests.
Cruz’s actions specifically complicate fellow Senator Chuck Grassley’s hopes that his grandson would end up as the new secretary of agriculture, which will be appointed by Governor Kim Reynolds. It could also cause some local problems for Congressman Steve King, who endorsed Cruz in the the caucus even with the outcry from farmers in his district.
It’s just one more example of how Iowa Republicans face serious problems with their national counterparts, many of whom are outright hostile to Iowa agricultural interests due to either their reliance on oil industry donors or ideological opposition to any mandates. The number of Republican climate change deniers don’t help things either, as one of the arguments for ethanol is to diversify America’s energy sources and to move the country away from oil production. As long as the Republican Party stays on their current path on energy issues (and Trump has surrounded himself with oil partisans), Iowa will keep facing this fight.
At some point, rural Iowans might get wise to the fact that even if their local Republican legislators back certain programs, the Republican Party as a whole opposes their interests on ethanol. Maybe one day they’ll start reconsidering which party is better for their bottom line.
by Pat Rynard