USDA Secretary Perdue Frustrated By Stalled Appointments

Source: By Grant Gerlock, KUNC • Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2017

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue (center) waits to welcome a new appointee to the agency. The event was also supposed to include the appointment of Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey (left), but his nomination is blocked in the U.S. Senate.

An event Monday planned to mark two Midwestern political appointees joining the U.S. Department of Agriculture was partly spoiled by a political dispute over biofuels.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue came to Omaha, Nebraska, to officially name Greg Ibach, who is the director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, and Bill Northey, the head of Iowa’s Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, as USDA undersecretaries. Perdue swore-in Ibach, but not Northey, whose confirmation is being blocked in the Senate.

Perdue says the nomination process has been slow-going for the Trump administration.

“We need these people to go to work,” Perdue says. “We’ve had this administration in (office) since the 20th of January. The Senate, Democrats, have slowed this process down.”

He adds: “We’ve always in the United States had a great transition of government. And this is a poor example of how to transition when we can’t get people into office in order to go to work.”

While Senate Democrats have blocked the nomination of Sam Clovis to lead the research arm of USDA, the hold on Northey did not come from a Democrat. It’s due to Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who blocked Northey as part of a dispute between farm states and oil states over renewable fuels policy.

Iowa Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst blocked a Trump nominee to the EPA to pressure the administration to withdraw proposed changes to the amount of plant-based diesel mandated under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently said he wouldn’t go through with the proposal and pledged not to make other changes sought by oil refiners, an industry Pruitt has deep ties to.

Perdue says he talked with Pruitt about the economic importance of federal renewable fuels policy to farm groups in the Corn Belt.

“I understood his reasoning and his methodology, but he also understood the President’s commitment, which the President reaffirmed to him, and I think he made the right decision,” Perdue says.

While the RFS is a regulation favored by agricultural interests, Perdue says farm policy under Trump is focused on cutting regulations while expanding trade. To that point, the Trump administration recently took steps to repeal rules regarding federal jurisdiction over water quality and livestock markets.