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D.C. Dispatch: Iowa lawmakers weigh in on wetlands, fentanyl, student loans


D.C. Dispatch: Iowa lawmakers weigh in on wetlands, fentanyl, student loans

May 26, 2023 | 2:03 pm ET
By Jay Waagmeester
D.C. Dispatch: Iowa lawmakers weigh in on wetlands, fentanyl, student loans
Iowa's congressional delegation celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling overturning the EPA's Waters of the U.S. rule. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa DNR)

Fentanyl, truck emissions and student loan relief topped discussion for Iowa lawmakers in the House this week as senators spent time back in their districts.

Iowa GOP lawmakers also celebrated a Supreme Court ruling on wetlands regulation and addressed government spending issues.

WOTUS ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of a wetland Thursday. Iowa Republicans have long opposed the Waters of the U.S. or WOTUS rules that allow federal regulation of a broad range of waterways and wetlands beyond navigable lakes and rivers.

Rep. Randy Feenstra called the ruling a huge win for farmers.

“I am thrilled that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of America’s heartland over President Biden’s radical EPA,” Feenstra said in a news release. “This is a huge win for Iowa farmers and rural America.”

The change comes after lower courts initially ruled Michael and Chantell Sackett of Idaho must obtain federal environmental approvals to build on their land, which was separated by a 30-foot road from a tributary to Priest Lake. The Supreme Court’s ruling overturned the rule requiring federal permission, granting more power to states to watch after waters.

The court determined that federal waters, under jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, are wetlands with “continuous surface connection” to navigable waters, including streams, lakes, oceans and rivers.

Previously, an area with an ecologically “significant nexus” to a navigable waterway was under the ruling of the Clean Water Act enforcement.

The ruling changes the jurisdiction of much of Iowa’s land, especially farmland.

Sen. Joni Ernst weighed in on Twitter: “I’m glad to see the Supreme Court rightfully and unanimously blocked Biden’s ill-conceived #WOTUS rule,” Ernst tweeted Thursday. “This is a big WIN for Iowa, where nearly every industry is impacted by WOTUS, including 46k #smallbiz and countless farmers.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley on the ruling:

Grassley, others urge investigation of defense price gouging

A recent report from 60 Minutes found that defense contractors such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and TransDigm charge the Department of Defense prices to make, at times, profits as high as 40% to 50%. 

In a letter, Grassley, along with Sens. Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Republicans Mike Braun of Indiana and Ron Wyden of Oregon and Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, called on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III to investigate the alleged price gouging. 

“These companies have abused the trust government has placed in them, exploiting their position as sole suppliers for certain items to increase prices far above inflation or any reasonable profit margin,” the senators wrote.

Earlier this year, a report from the Government Accountability Office determined that the DOD failed to implement a comprehensive approach to combat department-wide fraud.

“The DOD can no longer expect Congress or the American taxpayer to underwrite record military spending while simultaneously failing to account for the hundreds of billions it hands out every year to spectacularly profitable private corporations,” the senators wrote.

Grassley has been involved in investigating TransDigm’s alleged price gouging since 2019.
Cedar Rapids is home to Raytheon’s avionics and missions systems operations.

Ernst probes ATF costs

On the topic of calling out waste, Ernst sent a letter to Inspector General Michael Horowitz to investigate the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) after whistleblowers came forward to say the ATF has routinely misclassified administrative positions as law enforcement jobs, resulting in excess expenses. 

According to a letter from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, waste could be as much as $19.7 million over a five-year period. 

House representatives speak out against EPA emission rule

The House voted Tuesday to overturn a rule proposed by the EPA aimed at limiting emissions from heavy-duty freight trucks.

The rule would cut down nitrogen oxides, a pollutant that contributes to acid rain and smog.

Feenstra, Reps. Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Zach Nunn all voted to overturn the rule, a move made by the Senate in April.

“From food and fuel to furniture and fertilizer, Iowa truckers work overtime to keep our shelves stocked and our economy moving,” Feenstra said in a news release. “However, the EPA’s proposed emissions regulations on heavy-duty trucks would exacerbate trucker shortages, increase prices for our families at a time of record inflation and make supply-chain bottlenecks even worse.”

The House vote means the legislation now moves to Biden’s desk for signature, though he is expected to veto it.

HALT Fentanyl Act

All four of Iowa’s House members voted for the HALT All Lethal Trafficking of Fentanyl Act, which passed the House Thursday. The bill permanently places fentanyl-related substances as a class into schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, according to the bill’s summary. 

According to the CDC, 71,238 people died from overdosing illegal, manufactured fentanyl in the U.S. in 2021. 

Feenstra weighed in on the passage of the bill on Twitter. 

Miller-Meeks sent this tweet Tuesday, two days before the HALT Fentanyl Act passed the House with bipartisan support and one day after the White House encouraged Congress to pass the bill.

Student loan relief in the House

The House of Representatives approved a resolution preventing Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, with all four of Iowa’s representatives voting for the bill against forgiving loans.

The plan would forgive student loans up to $20,000 for Americans with incomes less than $125,000, but is currently on hold due to challenges from the Supreme Court.

In the unlikely event the resolution passes the Senate and both chambers override Biden’s expected veto, the legislation would undo the student debt cancellation plan and would retroactively add the interest that would have accumulated on current student debt since the most recent payment pause extension.

“Hardworking Iowans who have sacrificed to pay off their student loans or never had them in the first place shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s degree,” Hinson tweeted Wednesday. “Proud to back legislation to nullify President Biden’s student loan ‘cancellation” scheme.’”

And finally, #soybeanwatch

In addition to making headway on his 99-county tour during his week away from the chamber, Grassley shared some farming wisdom with his Twitter followers.