Report: Ted Cruz is blocking Bill Northey’s USDA appointment

Source: By Jason Noble, Des Moines Register • Posted: Friday, October 27, 2017

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the 2015 Ag Summit on Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. Charlie Litchfield

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture’s Bill Northey’s confirmation to a top post at the USDA – long thought to be a slam-dunk – is reportedly being held up over oil-versus-corn politics in the U.S. Senate.

Politico reports that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is holding back Northey’s nomination as the Ag Department’s new undersecretary for farm production and conservation. The move comes despite wide support for Northey on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The reason? According to Politico’s unnamed sources, it’s a “reaction” to successful efforts by Iowa Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst last week to block action by the Environmental Protection Agency to decrease the mandate for biofuels blended into the nation’s fuel supply.

Iowa is the top corn-producing state in the nation, and much of its crop goes toward biofuels, which federal law requires to be blended into gas and other fuels sold at the pump. The state’s clout in Congress and as the first state in the nation to hold a presidential nominating contest has helped preserve the renewable fuel standard despite huge opposition from the oil industry.

A spokesman for Cruz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cruz was hostile to biofuels even as he campaigned across the state, prompting industry groups and even then-Gov. Terry Branstad to organize against him in the final weeks before the caucuses.

Should Northey’s appointment not move forward, it would close the possibility of a vacancy in the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture’s office that would be filled by Gov. Kim Reynolds. Grassley has endorsed his grandson, state Rep. Pat Grassley to succeed Northey as Iowa ag secretary.