There's no doubt, Iowa's U.S. senators are regretting their votes in February to confirm Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. Thing is, their massive error was obvious from the outset to anyone who wasn't solely interested in being a good partisan soldier.
President Donald Trump's EPA could cost Iowa billions in business output and countless jobs if it follows through with its proposal to roll back mandates on ethanol-blended gasoline within the Clean Air Act. On this front, the Renewable Fuel Standard, drafted years ago by the often-derided EPA, has been a boon for Iowa above any other state.
And, now, Pruitt and his friends in the oil industry want to hobble the program.
Grassley had a veritable meltdown in a media release, on the Senate floor and on Twitter following the EPA announcement earlier this week. The righteous indignation is a little late, Senator.
In December, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst pledged that Pruitt would defend the RFS. In January, Pruitt again promised that he'd protect the program if confirmed.
It was bull from the outset. In December, this editorial board urged Grassley and Ernst to oppose Pruitt and Rick Perry, then Trump's nominee to lead the Energy Department. Both men had spent their entire careers in service to oil companies. Trump's lip service to middle America was laughable and unrealistic to any serious observer. It was obvious from the outset that Trump was selecting cabinet members based on their fervor for tearing down that which they were named to lead.
Grassley and Ernst were either naive or willfully oblivious. Partisan allegiance blinded them. They, like the rest of the Senate's GOP majority, proved little more than a rubber stamp. And, in a year, Iowa could pay the price for their willingness to sell out the state.
The average price of corn more than doubled since the creation of the RFS in 2005, topping off at an $4.11 a bushel in 2014, reported The New York Times. Iowa, more than any other state, has benefited from RFS, according to multiple studies. As such, it's become a flashpoint in political circles. Urban centers see it as a backdoor tax on food and an additional subsidy for a farm industry that already receives substantial assistance from the federal government. Officials in other rural states wonder why their crop-of-choice isn't getting a boost from taxpayers. Politicians from oil producing states hate the competition. And libertarians and free-market conservatives are philosophically opposed to the program.
It's within this political reality that Grassley and Ernst backed Pruitt. As Oklahoma's attorney general, he made a career waging war on any campaign that weakened oil and gas production. He filed lawsuit after lawsuit attacking federal regulation of energy. Now, Trump is batting 0 for eternity on the legislative front. The administration's only so-called victories are in rollbacks of executive branch regulation, Rust Belt be damned.
Supporting Pruitt in February wasn't just a gamble. It wasn't simply being a good soldier. It was a predictable vote against Iowa's interests.
Grassley and Ernst made promises about the RFS' political safety that they couldn't keep. Their assurances were grounded only in words from an administration that's been incapable of honesty and loyalty from the outset. They got burned and slashing RFS is now on the table.
Grassley and Ernst might be shocked. But it's no surprise to anyone who chose healthy skepticism over political patronage.
Quad-City Times, another Lee Enterprises publication. Sept. 27.