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Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said he will vote against President Joe Biden’s pick to be an assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over recent actions by the Biden administration related to clean water rules and biofuels.
The Senate on Wednesday was scheduled to vote on the confirmation of Radhika Fox, of California, to oversee the EPA’s Office of Water, which is responsible for enforcing federal clean water and safe drinking water laws.
Grassley, in a weekly conference call with Iowa reporters, said Fox was evasive with members of a Senate committee during her confirmation hearing over questions about the Biden administration’s efforts to expand clean water protections to smaller U.S. waterways such as streams, ditches and wetlands that feed into bigger bodies of water.
The move would reverse a rule enacted under former President Donald Trump’s administration limiting the waterways that can receive federal protection.
“She would not say anything about going back to the Waters of the U.S., (and) we know they’re planning to do it,” Grassley said of Fox. “We couldn’t even get her to say if there’s anything bad about the Water of the U.S. … If you can’t get clear answers out of some of these people, you just kind of figure there’s bad days ahead when it comes to WOTUS and stuff like that.”
The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers recently announced their intent to revise the definition of “waters of the United States,” which defines all bodies of water that fall under U.S. federal jurisdiction.
A 2020 federal rule replaced the Obama-era WOTUS rule, lessening the federal government’s authority to regulate pollution in wetlands and certain streams, including those affected by farm runoff. EPA Administrator Michael Regan in a news release said the Trump-era rule had reduced clean water protections.
Regan said the Trump policy had led to “significant environmental degradation.”
The agencies said they will consider the latest science and impact of climate change on U.S. waters during the new rulemaking process, as well as input from landowners, the agricultural community, states, tribes, local governments, community organizations and environmental groups, according to a news release.
Grassley and fellow Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, both members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, contend expanding the definition of bodies of water protected under the Clean Water Act will harm Iowa’s agriculture industry.
“Adding more federal red tape to a farmer’s day-to-day decisions on the farm is government overreach, plain and simple,” Grassley said in a speech on the Senate floor Monday.
“Between the use of cover crops, buffer strips and no-till farming, more conservation practices than ever before are being used on Iowa’s 35 million acres of farmland,” Grassley said. “Iowa farmers should be congratulated. But it seems like there is always a target on their back.”
Grassley argued the Trump-era rule “did not give polluters free rein to discharge pollution with no regard for the health of our nation’s waterways.” Rather, it “made sure that where routine land-use decisions were being made, with little or no environmental impact, then those decisions would not be regulated by the federal government,” he said.
Ernst and Grassley earlier this week sent a letter pressing U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack over the clean water revisions as well as rumors the Biden administration intends to grant waivers reducing or eliminating renewable fuel blending targets for some small petroleum refiners.
“I think farmers are getting mixed messages from the Biden administration on biofuels,” Grassley told reporters Wednesday. “He (Biden) needs to stand up to big oil and fight for the family farmer.”
Grassley also joined Ernst and other colleagues in introducing legislation to bring more transparency and predictability to the EPA’s small refinery exemption process.