Iowa Senate debate touches on RFS, EPA regs, high court vacancy

Source: Jennifer Yachnin, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, October 21, 2016

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley touted his work to maintain the renewable fuel standard while criticizing his Democratic challenger for supporting U.S. EPA regulations, as he faced off last night with former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge in the duo’s first debate.

Democrats had hoped to make the Iowa Senate race competitive in the face of Senate Republicans’ refusal to hold a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, but Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has maintained a double-digit lead over Judge.

Nonetheless, Judge continued her assault against Grassley on the issue last night, opening the debate at Morningside College in Sioux City by asserting that voters are frustrated with “gridlock and obstruction in Washington, D.C.”

“In order for that to change, I believe that we need to have new leadership,” said Judge, who is 72 years old. “The obstruction of the Supreme Court for the last several months is unprecedented; that is on my opponent’s shoulders.”

But in response to a moderator’s question on the standoff between President Obama and Senate Republicans — who have asserted that the Supreme Court vacancy left by Antonin Scalia’s death in February should be filled by the winner of the November election — Grassley maintained his assertion that the chamber is merely following tradition.

The 83-year-old Republican added, however, that he would consider holding a confirmation hearing for Garland if a majority of the Senate agreed to do so during the lame-duck session in November.

“A chairman serves at the [will of the] majority of the Senate in the United States, and I would follow the will of a majority of the Senate,” Grassley said. “I don’t expect that to happen, though.”

Judge shot back: “It sure appears to me that he’s leaving himself some wiggle room so that they can have a hearing for Judge Garland between the time this election is over and Hillary Clinton takes office.”

Everyone loves ethanol

Both candidates found agreement on continued support for RFS, arguing that federal mandates and related tax credits must continue until the industry has “matured.”

“The renewable fuels standard is permanent law until 2022. I believe we have the votes in the United States Senate to make sure that that is not repealed,” Grassley asserted.

He criticized U.S. EPA, however, for using its waiver authority to set levels lower than the RFS law dictates.

“We have a big problem with the EPA wanting to cut down on the amount that’s supposed to be done,” Grassley said. The agency is expected to continue to adjust renewable fuel volumes in the next administration. “They don’t have the authority to do it,” he said.

He added: “That’s a big victory for Big Oil. Big Oil can’t win in Congress, but they can win in this Obama administration. My opponent seems to like everything the EPA does. The EPA is ruining RFS by not having the full gallonage mixed with petroleum as it should be.”

Judge, a former state agriculture secretary, likewise praised the state’s ethanol industry and expressed support for the RFS, but took aim at Grassley for supporting “the subsidies that Big Oil has received for years and years.”

“Ethanol is Iowa’s homegrown product, and we’re proud of it, and we need that fuel standard in place in order to make things work until this industry can mature,” she said.

In his closing remarks, Grassley reiterating his criticism of both EPA and Judge, arguing that his Democratic challenger backs the Waters of the U.S. rule, which he said would “be a real problem for farmers if it finally goes through.”

Grassley, who also touted his support for the state’s wind energy industry during the debate, is favored to win a seventh term in November.