By Gene Lucht

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is now in her second year serving in Congress. Ernst is the first woman elected to Congress from Iowa, and as a rural resident and a veteran, she has often focused her attention on issues related to agriculture and national defense.

Ernst is a graduate of Stanton High School and Iowa State University. She has a master’s degree in public administration from Columbus College. She served in the Iowa State Senate from 2011-14 and is a former officer in the Iowa National Guard.

IFT: What are the top agricultural issues in Congress for you right now?

ERNST: I think there are a lot of exciting opportunities for Congress to address in agriculture. First, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (a Republican from Kansas) is working on his biotechnology labeling bill. That recently passed out of committee and will go to the full Senate.

Second, I was very busy working on the Senate resolution of disapproval regarding the president’s proposals regarding the Waters of the United States (WOTUS). That passed the House and the Senate but was vetoed by the president. I think it is important we keep working on that issue. I’m hopeful that the courts will rule on it. Meanwhile, we could address it through the appropriations process through not appropriating money in that area.

Third, the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) is something we need to keep an eye on. Our entire Iowa delegation sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Gina McCarthy urging her to set the 2017 ethanol and 2018 biodiesel levels in accordance with the law.

And fourth, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement is being discussed and I do think we will get a chance to vote on that. I tend to be supportive of the bill. Iowa is a net exporter and agriculture benefits from trade. I also visited Vietnam last year and our visit was not about trade, but we talked about it. Governments in that region say that if we don’t step up, someone else will and that someone is likely to be China. I think it is a national security issue.

IFT: Let’s talk a bit more about those issues. What do you think will happen with the GMO bill?

ERNST: I think this is going to be a tough one. It passed out of committee on a bi-partisan vote but the Democrats will be asking for amendments on the floor. I don’t like to see individual states enacting numerous individual laws on labeling. I think it would be better to address it at the federal level.

IFT: How about TPP? Will that come up for a vote this year? And how important was the vote to approve presidential trade promotion authority on this?

ERNST: I think if we are able to bring it up in the Senate that it will pass. One in five jobs in Iowa are tied in some way to trade, so I think this is important. A lot of people don’t remember that trade authority means this will be an up or down vote. I’m optimistic, though.

IFT: How much does election year politics and timing complicate this?

ERNST: We have limited days on the calendar to get many things done this year. I think the appropriations bills will be the priority. Those take time and that limits the ability to get other things passed.

It’s always possible that a vote could be pushed into a lame-duck session after the election.

IFT: What is the timetable for appropriations?

ERNST: We probably need the appropriations bills written by mid-year. Last year the appropriations bills came out too late and we ended up with a 2,000 page omnibus bill and only two days to read it. We should not run government in that manner. We need to work hard to get the appropriations bills out on time.

IFT: Will the battle over a Supreme Court nomination complicate all this?

ERNST: I don’t think so. We can be working on the appropriations bills. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see whether the Democrats decide to filibuster if there is no Supreme Court confirmation hearing or vote.

IFT: Returning to the RFS, is this really a monitoring issue now?

ERNST: Let’s call it a pressure and see situation. We encourage letters and phone calls to EPA. It’s really important to keep pushing that issue and keep pressure on EPA to get those numbers out and to abide by the original numbers included in the law.