Hart: Congress should stop environmental rollbacks, support ethanol

Rita Hart, Democratic candidate for the 2nd Congressional District seat, campaigns Saturday outside a school in Bennett, where she once taught. (Photo courtesy of Rita Hart campaign)

Democratic congressional candidate Rita Hart said the next Congress should reverse Trump administration rollbacks on environmental regulations and address climate change by working with farmers and supporting ethanol. 

“We can’t go backwards,” Hart said in an interview with Iowa Capital Dispatch. The 64-year-old former state senator and former teacher is running against Ottumwa ophthalmologist and Republican state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, 65, to replace retiring Democratic Congressman Dave Loebsack. 

Former Iowa Sen. Rita Hart is running for Congress in the 2nd District. (Photo courtesy of Hart campaign)

Trump and the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate have spent more than three years rolling back environmental regulations supported by the Obama-Biden administration. Shortly after his election, Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate issues, and moved to allow more emissions from vehicles, factories and power plants, and to make it harder to protect waterways

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pushed for clean-energy developments that create jobs and help reduce carbon emissions. 

Hart said a top priority of the next Congress should be to stop the rollbacks in regulations.

“Definitely we need to be talking about what we can do to make some headway on the environment and climate change,” but carefully, said Hart, of Wheatland.

“It’s crucial also that we get this right, and so, again, we can’t go backwards,’ Hart said. “Any attempt to go backwards I think it is a step in the wrong direction.”

A key will be working with farmers, who could use plantings to capture carbon that otherwise would rise to atmosphere and trap heat, Hart said. 

“As far as overall policy on this, I think it makes a lot of sense to me that we can provide some solutions here with agriculture,” Hart said. “And I’d like to see farmers take a stronger role in the policy when it comes to figuring out what to do next.”

Hart, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018, said she grew up on a farm and her father was “very concerned about these issues.”

“I learned to really appreciate the ingenuity of the American farmer and how inventive they are, and how they have engineering kinds of minds,” Hart said. “If you put a problem in front of an American farmer, he is going to figure out a practical, smart way to approach it.”

Farmer should help mold climate change and water-quality solutions, Hart said.

“I’d like to see farmers put in that position on this issue, because there are ways that we can sequester carbon, there are ways that we can clean up this water,” Hart said. “But we need the tools and the resources to get the job done. We need to be able to get around a table and determine that so that we can be profitable in our efforts, and actually make a difference for the entire world when it comes to climate change.”

Hart said she “absolutely” supports the federal Renewable Fuel Standard. That is a federal requirement that oil refineries blend a certain amount of biofuels into gasoline and diesel. 

A controversy over refineries’ requests to get out of the requirement has been one of the hottest environmental debates in Iowa, the nation’s top producer of corn, which is used to make ethanol. Iowa leads the nation in ethanol production. 

“It’s disappointing to me that we have to continue to have this fight, and that those waivers are granted” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” Hart said. “To me that is obvious that Big Oil has too much of a voice at the table and people are not prioritizing the steps we need to take to get cleaner energy.”

Iowa state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks is running for Congress in District 2. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Senate)

Hart’s opponent, state Sen. Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa, has called for the resignation of EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal-industry lobbyist. “What we really need is an EPA administrator who will do the right thing and enforce the Renewal Fuels Standard on the books,” Miller-Meeks said in a November news release. “It’s clear to me that Andrew Wheeler is either unable or unwilling to do that, so it’s time for President Trump to clean house now and find someone who will honor his commitment to rural America.”

Wheeler remains on the job.

Federal law currently requires refineries to use 15 billion gallons of ethanol per year, but waivers have reduced the amount purchased. 

Hart and Miller-Meeks will meet in a debate at 7 p.m. Thursday on Iowa PBS.