US Senate

January 17th, 2014

Ernst Flip-Flops on the Renewable Fuels Standard

State Senator Joni Ernst co-sponsored a resolution in the Iowa Senate that urges the federal government to extend the renewable fuels standard despite the fact that she has opposed the measure on campaign trail while running for the U.S. Senate.

Ernst was asked about the Renewable Fuels Standard at a Republican candidates forum in Sioux City on December 16, 2013.  The questioner asked the candidates, “I would like your opinion on what the Renewable Fuel Standard has meant… what you believe you could do to make a difference on the Renewable Fuel Standard.”  Ernst stated her opposition to the Standard, saying, “We want people to choose products that work for them and not have them mandated by the United States government.”  Ernst also refused to attend a Republican U.S. Senate candidate’s forum hosted by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

Ernst’s recent change of heart on this issue is also evident on the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association U.S. Senate survey.  In the Survey, Ernst says that she supports the Renewable Fuels Standard with no legislative changes.  She indicates in the survey that she supports grants for blender pumps, tax credits for cellulosic ethanol, and an extension of the bio diesel tax credit.

In a letter that accompanied her answers to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association survey Ernst wrote, “While I do not believe the government should pick winners and losers in our economy, and from a philosophical standpoint I do not believe in taxpayer subsidies, I do believe that if we were to end these subsidies, it would have to be done across the board, for every sector at the exact same time – meaning until and unless that day comes, I will passionately stand in defense of the RFS and other related programs.”

Ernst’s new position on renewable fuels issues is not controversial for candidate running for federal office, but her evolving stance on the issue either indicates a lack of knowledge on the subject or a willingness to change a position when pressure is applied.  It is disingenuous to write on December 31st that you will “passionately stand in defense of the RFS and other related programs” when just two weeks earlier she was advocating the complete opposite position.

Of the four major Republican U.S. Senate candidates, two candidates, Ernst and Clovis have now reversed their position on the issue, while Mark Jacobs has been consistent in his support of the Renewable Fuels Standard and Matt Whitaker has been consistent in his opposition to it.  Whitaker refused to answer the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association’s U.S. Senate candidate survey.

This isn’t the first time Ernst has changed her position on a fuel related issue.  As a member of the Iowa State Senate, Ernst has supported an increase in the state’s gas tax to help pay for needed road and bridge repairs across the state.  Ernst voted in favor of a bill in the State Senate’s Transportation Committee that would have increased the state’s excise tax by a total of ten cents per gallon in 2012.

Had the bill been signed into law, Iowa’s state tax on gasoline would have increased from 21 cents to 31 cents a gallon for regular unleaded.  State taxes on ethanol blended gasoline would have jumped from 19 cents to 20 cents a gallon, and diesel fuel would have gone from being taxed at 22.5 cents to 32.5 cents a gallon.

Ernst supported increasing the state’s gas tax as late as last March but changed her tune when she began thinking about joining the race for the U.S. Senate.  In an interview with the Quad City Times, Ernst told the paper that her potential bid to replace Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin in the Senate weighed on her mind when she decided to pull her support from the controversial tax increase. Ernst told the Times, “I tend to focus on my district, but we do have to look at the big picture.’”

Ernst told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that she changed her mind on the tax because the state is doing much better financially than it once was. “After years of mismanagement by Democratic governors, we now have a healthy surplus in the state,” she said. “I think there are other ways to pay for road repairs than raising taxes.”

The positions that Ernst is now supporting in regard to the Renewable Fuels Standard and the state’s gas tax may help her in her campaign for the U.S. Senate, but her evolving positions create doubt about what she really believes.  Many activists go to candidate debates and forums and hear candidates give politically expedient answers to the questions asked of them.  However, instead of candidates saying what they think activists want to hear, it would be far more informative if candidates provided consistent answers that helped voters understand their worldview and philosophy.

About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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