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A new ad from a coalition of environmental groups tries to paint Iowa’s Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst as too extreme. The groups, which include the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Defense Action Fund, kicked off a nearly $1 million campaign with a 30 second TV spot on June 23, 2014.
The ad raises concern over Ernst’s promises "to shut down the Department of Education and abolish the EPA." It claims that these promises are "why extremist Sarah Palin and the billionaire Koch brother want Ernst in Washington." All in all, the ad concluded that Ernst is "Too extreme for Iowa."
It’s not unusual for political ads to distort candidate’s positions. Does Ernst really call for the abolition of the U.S. Education Department and the Environmental Protection Agency?
Our research showed that the ad was right on track. Ernst called for the closure of both agencies in April.
Will she do away with the Education Department?
Ernst is a state senator who won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. She’s running against the Democratic nominee, U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley.
Ernst brought up both the Education Department and the EPA in the Republican primary debate on April 24, 2014.
One of the moderators asked candidates how they would fund repairs for the nation’s "crumbling road and transportation systems." Ernst suggested cutting the federal budget to free up funds.
"I do believe that we can make the cuts necessary within our federal government," Ernst said. She called for "closing the doors to the Department of Education at the federal level. And not just because it would save taxpayer dollars, but because I do believe our children are better educated when it’s coming from the state."
We ran those comments by Ernst spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel, who said that Ernst wants to see power taken from Washington and put back in the hands of Iowans. She is "about state-driven policy," Hamel said.
According to the Education Department’s website the "federal role in education is limited." States handle almost all education policy and issues. But, at the federal level, the Education Department takes on many tasks such as conducting research and overseeing state policy to prevent discrimination. It also awards and distributes federal financial aid in the form of loans and grants.
The ad says that if Ernst is elected, 213,000 Iowa students would lose their federal Pell Grants. According to federal numbers, that is the number of Iowans who received Pell Grants in 2011-12. We asked the Ernst campaign what her plan for Pell Grants is, but we didn’t get a response.
What about the EPA?
While answering the same question that prompted her Education Department response, Ernst also mentioned the EPA. "Let’s shut down the EPA," she said. Ernst gave the same rationale for this slash in government, saying, "The state knows best how to protect resources."
So, the ad is on solid ground. Ernst did say that she would shut down the EPA.
Agriculture and manufacturing are two of Iowa’s key industries, and they are both heavily affected by EPA regulation. Hamel, Ernst’s spokeswoman, said that "Joni wants to have Iowa make its own decisions."
The ad also refers to the Clean Air Act. This raises the question of how states would deal with national issues, like air pollution. Unlike the Education Department, where the states already play a huge role, this could be more complicated for the EPA.
Two experts on environmental law told us that abolishing the EPA would dramatically reduce regulations on industry.
"Nearly all states have seen significant cuts in the budgets of their state environmental agencies in recent years," said one of them, Joel A. Mintz, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University who specializes in environmental law. "Although some states may have the expertise, resources and political will to subsume EPA’s responsibilities, many — probably most — do not."
An attack ad aired by the League of Conservation Voters said that Ernst wants to "shut down the Department of Education and abolish the EPA." In an April debate, Ernst called for the closure of both federal agencies, and her campaign didn’t dispute that. We rate this claim True.
League of Conservation Voters, "Promises," June 23, 2014
Iowa Press, "Iowa Press Debate: U.S. Senate Republican Primary," April 24, 2014
Huffington Post, "Environmental Groups: Joni Ernst is Beholden to Sarah Palin," June 24, 2013
Des Moines Register, "Liberal groups target Joni Ernst with nearly $1 million in attacks," June 24, 2014
U.S. Education Department, "2011-2012 Federal Pell Grant End-of-Year Report," accessed June 25, 2014
U.S. Education Department,, "An Overview of the Department of Education," accessed June 25, 2014
U.S. Education Department,, "Laws and Guidance," accessed June 25, 2014
Iowa Area Development Group, "Target Industries," accessed June 25, 2014
Press Release, "JONI ERNST CAMPAIGN RESPONDS TO LIBERAL ENVIRONMENTALISTS’ NEGATIVE AD," June 24, 2014
Phone interview with Gretchen Hamel, spokeswoman for Joni Ernst, June 25, 2014
Email interview with Char Miller, professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College, June 26, 2014
Email interview with Joel A. Mintz, law professor at Nova Southeastern University Law Center, June 26, 2014
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