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White House Meeting Yields Northey Confirmation, Little Else

Amy Mayer/IPR file
Bill Northey, Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture, has been confirmed to a post with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Four Republican senators met with President Donald Trump today to discuss the renewable fuel standard.

Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley visited the White House along with Ted Cruz of Texas and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Ernst says the meeting yielded neither changes Cruz was looking for nor guarantees for ethanol that would have pleased the Iowans.

Cruz has spent months requesting such a meeting, arguing changes to the renewable fuels law are needed to protect oil refiners. But Ernst says he hasn’t provided a concrete problem.

“We haven’t seen what the problem is. You have to have an actual problem to reach a solution,” she says, “and I think they’re just grasping at straws.”

Toomey and Cruz are requesting changes to the RFS to benefit oil refineries and Ernst says they held up one example of a struggling refinery in Pennsylvania to support their suggestions. But Ernst says one refinery in trouble does not condemn the RFS and the oil state senators have just always opposed the renewable fuel law.

Ernst said the meeting ended with the status quo, though President Trump told the senators he’d like to meet with ethanol industry representatives. Ernst said that could happen as soon as Thursday.

And the fact of the meeting prompted Cruz to finally lift his hold on the nomination of Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey to a position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Quickly thereafter, on a voice vote, the full Senate approved Northey to become Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services. It’s a job the Senate agriculture committee approved him for back in October.

“While this process has taken longer than expected,” Northey said in a statement after the confirmation vote, “I remain as excited as ever to work with Secretary Perdue and the staff at USDA to support of our nation’s farmers and ranchers.”

During his committee hearing, Northey told senators he looked forward to traveling to more states to understand better the needs of farmers in different places, and that he’d advocate for better customer service within the agencies he’ll oversee.

Northey has been Iowa's agriculture secretary since 2007.