Ernst visits POET Biorefining near Jewell

Trip was part of senator’s 99-county tour

— Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Billie Shelton U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and POET General Manager Kevin Monroe talk before the senator was given a tour of the Jewell plant Monday.

JEWELL — U.S. Senator Joni Ernst visited POET Biorefining near Jewell on Monday afternoon as part of her 99-county tour.

She was given a tour of the plant by general manager Kevin Monroe, who told her that the plant was built to produce 60 million gallons of ethanol per year and is now on pace to do 84 million gallons per year. He said that the corn needed to produce the ethanol is grown within 30 to 35 miles of the plant. Some 28 million bushels of corn are purchased for the plant.

“My job is to encourage the use of ethanol,” Ernst told Monroe. “I am privileged to sit on the senate ag committee. We do have input on the farm bill and other ag issues.”

Ernst, a former state senator and county auditor in Montgomery County, also said that she sees the ethanol industry expanding over the next decade. “I’m optimistic,” she said. “I think there are lots of consumers who would like to purchase it. I think we’re in it for the long run.”

“It’s remarkable to me that from the corn kernel that comes through your gates there is no waste along the way. That’s pretty phenomenal,” Ernst noted. “I wish more people understood that.”

A small group of POET employees met to chat with the senator after the tour. After Ernst encouraged them to ask questions on any topic, an employee wanted to know her thoughts on the situation with North Korea. Ernst said that this is a “very real threat and a very scary time. We are very concerned.

“The U.S. needs to be very firm that under no circumstances is it O.K. to use threats of a nuclear strike,” she said, adding that there is much rhetoric going both ways over the situation.

When asked about the concerns she’s hearing from her constituents, Ernst replied that on this trip the individual health insurance issue is a very big concern among Iowans. She said that the health care bill is not dead, but she is doubtful it will come up again since it’s been defeated three times in Congress.

She said that an important part of the issue is that Medica is the only company offering individual health insurance in Iowa, and premiums have increased so much that families often have been forced to cancel their insurance. Health insurance premiums have increased 110 percent over the past three years in Iowa, and Medica will put in place a 43 percent increase in January 2018, when the current health care plan ends, according to Ernst.

“We see in Iowa great fails in health care coverage,” she added. “We’ve got to provide more opportunity for insurers to offer products.

“We must come up with an answer for this in short order when we get back to Washington, so families can afford health insurance premiums,” Ernst stated. “This will be a bi-partisan effort, and I hope we can provide some relief.”