The Importance of Seeing Ernst

Who’s that giving the Republican response to the State of the Union? Joni Ernst, a climate-denying senator who wants to abolish the EPA. Sigh.

All political parties, like all families, have an embarrassing kook or two. For years the Democrats had James Traficant, the improbably coiffured eccentric Ohio congressman who closed his floor speeches with “Beam me up” and was eventually jailed for corruption. Republicans recently suffered through the two-year term of Representative Kerry Bentivolio, the Michigan truther and part-time reindeer rancher who said he dreamed of impeaching President Obama—if only he could find evidence of wrongdoing.

Party leaders typically keep congressional oddballs in the background and hope the media doesn't become infatuated with them. Tonight, the GOP takes a different approach, shoving newly elected Iowa senator Joni Ernst to the head of the class to deliver the party’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

It’s a daring choice, to be sure. Ernst hasn’t yet hit the nutty heights of Traficant or Bentivolio, but in her campaign (featuring a commercial in which she bragged of “castrating hogs”) and first month in office, she has already demonstrated a genuine knack for the outrageous, especially when it comes to environmental issues.

She Doesn’t Accept Climate Science

“We do see climates change, but I have not seen proven proof that it is entirely manmade.

You’ve heard of "proof beyond a reasonable doubt," "a preponderance of evidence," and "statistical significance." That’s not good enough for Ernst, who developed a new standard of evidence back in May when she demanded “proven proof” of human-induced climate change. (She may be angling for a book of Ernstisms to go with the two-volume set of George W. Bushisms.)

Ernst has also admitted, “I don’t know the science behind climate change.”

She’s Bankrolled by Big Polluters

“The exposure to this group and to this network, and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.”

Why hasn’t Ernst seen “proven proof” of climate change? It might have something to do with the fact that the Koch brothers, the country’s leading climate deniers, bankrolled her Senate campaign. Several members of Charles Koch’s family maxed out their legal contribution limits to her, and Koch Industries threw in $5,000 more. Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-funded think tank (of sorts), also ran ads against Ernst’s opponents.

Upton Sinclair’s aphorism “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it"—adapted to the climate change debate by Al Gore—applies very neatly to Ernst. As long as the Kochs finance her, she’s unlikely to find any proven proof.

She Wants to Abolish the EPA

“Let’s shut down the EPA. The state knows best how to protect resources.”

Ernst really, really doesn’t like the federal government. In fact, she wants to abolish entire sections of it, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. During her campaign, she claimed that the EPA’s proposal to cover streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act would require farmers to petition the government before planting a tree. (Iowa’s Gazette newspaper gave Ernst an “F” for truthfulness on that statement.)

The freshman senator (who comes from a state whose major city frequently has to alert citizens about excess nitrates from hog waste in their drinking water) thinks the states can do a better job of protecting the environment—even though the agency was established (by President Nixon in 1970) after the states failed to do just that.

State still often fail, in fact. Just last month, the EPA proposed new regulations for coal ash after lax state rules led to a series of disasters. (And even those proposed EPA rules are themselves pretty lax.)

She’s Got Some Other…Interesting Ideas

Aside from her wish to abolish the EPA and the U.S. Department of Education, Ernst has also supported “nullification”—the idea that states can legislate away or simply ignore federal laws. This is flatly illegal. The U.S. Constitution is clear on this. It’s right there in the Supremacy Clause (Article VI, Paragraph 2).”

Ernst purports to worship the Constitution and has accused other politicians of “not defending the Constitution.” She might want to brush up.

More importantly, the recent history of nullification is a national embarrassment. In the 1950s, Arkansas attempted to nullify the Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate schools. When the state took its case for prolonging segregation to the U.S. Supreme Court in Cooper v. Aaron, the justices quoted an earlier opinion by legendary chief justice John Marshall, who said that if nullification were allowed, “the Constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery.”

There’s plenty more. Ernst has suggested that people on Medicaid take no responsibility for their own health, and she yearns for the good old days before we relied on the government for everything. She has also called President Obama a dictator.

Senator Ernst must be honored to speak just after our national dictator tonight.

Update: In her response address this evening, Ernst said: “The President’s own State Department has said Keystone’s construction could support thousands of jobs and pump billions into our economy, and do it with minimal environmental impact.”

That’s a highly selective quote. A year ago, when oil prices were over $100 a barrel, the State Department minimized the pipeline’s impact on carbon emissions. However, the report noted, “If WTI-equivalent prices fell to around approximately $65 to 75 per barrel, if there were long-term constraints on any new pipeline capacity, and if such constraints resulted in higher transportation costs, then there could be a substantial impact on oil sands production levels.”

Guess what? All of those conditions came to pass. Oil is cheap. Transporting it is expensive. The Keystone XL pipeline is the only way to make carbon-intensive tar sands economically viable. Without it, those fossil fuels will remain in the ground (not in the atmosphere furthering climate change).

Maybe Ernst didn’t get that far in the report.

This article was originally published on onEarth, which is no longer in publication. onEarth was founded in 1979 as the Amicus Journal, an independent magazine of thought and opinion on the environment. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. This article is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the article was originally published by and link to the original; the article cannot be edited (beyond simple things such grammar); you can’t resell the article in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select articles individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our articles.

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