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GOVERNMENT

Grassley calls on Biden’s cabinet to oppose Waters of U.S., support Iowa farmers

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U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst in a letter called on the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to advocate for biofuels and defend the Navigable Water Protection Rule.

“Farming is hard work in and of itself, and is more challenging by the myriad of external forces that can make or break a farmer’s or a rancher’s year — with weather, commodity price fluctuation, and other factors outside their control all having an impact on whether an operation ends the year in the black or in the read,” the letter said.

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U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley

Grassley and Ernst voted against the confirmation of Radhika Fox to serve as assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency after the Biden administration indicated plans to return to the Waters of the United States water protection standard. Fox was confirmed in a 55 to 43 vote.

On a media call, Grassley said the reasoning behind his opposition was the responses from Fox when she was questioned about her stance on WOTUS.

In 2015 the EPA and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers released WOTUS to describe which bodies of waters are federally regulated under the Clean Waters Act.

WOTUS broadened the definition of “navigable waters” to include smaller bodies of water protected by the Clean Waters Act. Proponents of the agriculture industry argue this rule slows economic progress by forcing farmers and ranchers to obtain permits. Grassley said WOTUS covers 97 percent of Iowa.

WOTUS was contested in litigation, and after the Supreme Court reversed lower courts’ rulings deeming the law to be illegal, it then was suspended under the Trump administration, but the EPA now looks to revive WOTUS.

“If you can’t even get clear answers out of some of these people, you just kind of figure that there are bad days ahead when it comes to WOTUS,” Grassley said.

Grassley also joined U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, in a letter to Secretary of the Department of Interior Deb Haaland about the public lands rental and royalty system. Congress last addressed the issue in 1920 when the Mineral Leasing Act passed. The bill would set a uniform rate of 18.75 percent for all new oil and gas leases.

Grassley said the current system is out of date, and increasing the rates for reinstated oil and gas leases would discourage oil and gas developers from holding on to public land they don’t actually intend to explore.

Bipartisanship on an infrastructure plan begins to look grim as Democrats to look toward reconciliation, but Grassley said there still is room to meet in the middle — it all depends on how the package is paid for.

A bipartisan group of members of the House and Senate has joined together to form an infrastructure plan priced at $1.2 trillion over the next eight years. Originally, Biden proposed a corporate tax hike to fund the package, but the GOP and select Democrats have put their foot down on the corporate tax, arguing the hike would amount to a 2017 tax rollback from the Trump Administration.

In response to paying for the plan, Grassley offers user fees like the gas tax, which typically have financed highway investments in the past. The gas tax hasn’t increased since 1993; at the same time, inflation has weakened the purchasing power of the 18.4-cent tax.

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