Nebraska Public Media
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It’s been 3 months since former Nebraska governor, Pete Ricketts, was appointed to the U.S Senate. He checked in with Nebraska Public Radio’s Dale Johnson to talk about two of the biggest issues facing Congress: completing the Farm Bill and addressing the controversy of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water of the United States rule.
Nebraska is among 26 states joining lawsuits challenging the EPA’s effort to expand the Waters of the United States rule beyond protecting lakes, rivers and streams. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing Sackett v. EPA, a case in which the EPA is preventing an Idaho family from building on land where wetlands drain into a creek which feeds a lake. If the Supreme Court decides against the EPA, it could jeopardize the Clean Water Act.
Knowing Sen. Ricketts opposes expanding the rule, Johnson asked him what he finds acceptable in the EPA’s Waters of the U.S rule.
RICKETTS: Well, what is acceptable is going back to Congress’s original intent. Going back to 1972, when the Clean Water Act was written, Congress had navigable waters 50 times. So, their intent was very clear that EPA would have authority over rivers, lakes and oceans, but not temporary water sources, like roadside ditches or puddles on construction sites, and not things that would not impact those lakes, rivers, and oceans, like farm ponds. So, what they need to do is go back to what the original tenant of the 1972 Clean Water Act was. And if they want to expand that, to include the temporary water sources, they need to come back to Congress and change the law, because that’s the way our system of checks and balances works. What they’re doing right now is really subverting the law. They’re trying to expand their powers beyond what Congress’s intent was. And that’s not the role of the executive branch. Their role is to carry out what Congress writes in the law. So, what EPA needs to do is go back and rewrite this to make sure that they’re not infringing upon what Congress had intended in that Clean Water Act.
JOHNSON: Honestly, Senator, what is the likelihood of that happening?
RICKETTS: Well, we’ll have to see what the EPA decides to do. There is that Sackett case out there right now, and based upon that ruling, the EPA is probably going to have to go back and rewrite the rule that just promulgated the end of 21. But we’ll see what happens to that court case. And we’ll probably just continue to tussle over this as long as the EPA is going to try to unlawfully expand their authority.
Johnson also spoke with Ricketts about the 2023 Farm Bill, which includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program, which serves one in four Americans. Johnson asked Ricketts if keeping the proposed SNAP work requirements will doom the Farm Bill.
RICKETTS: I think there’s always opportunity to improve what we’re doing. We demonstrate that here in Nebraska with our SNAP Next Step and Employment Training program, where we offer our job coaches and Department of Labor to the family to be able to help them get a better job, and get promotions and so forth. And by doing that, we helped a lot of people to be able to get better jobs, and in many cases, reduce the reliance on SNAP. So, I think those same sort of opportunities should be able to do that in the Farm Bill. And again, it’s a process I have to work that with. You have to be able to pull in all the different points of views on the Republican side, as well as on the Democrat side. But the farm bill is important for Nebraska. As you know, the SNAP program is a big part of that. So, I imagine this would be part of the debate that we have as we go through the process of getting the Farm Bill complete. But I’m very confident we’re going to have a Farm Bill,
JOHNSON: What do you want to see come out of the House here? House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is demanding that spending cuts be in place to put the federal government back on a path to a balanced budget. Do you see that happening?
RICKETTS: Speaker McCarthy is exactly right. If you look at what the Biden administration’s budget is proposed, just compared to 2019, pre COVID. Overall, their budget is 54%, higher than it was in 2019. And that wasn’t that long ago, just four years ago, our population certainly has not increased by 54%. If you look at non defense, non discretionary spending, that’s up 40%. So we need to start looking at controlling our spending like we did during my time as governor of the State of Nebraska. We restrained our spending and we did a very good job of delivering services. That same sort of mentality is what has to happen in Washington D.C. now. It will take time to do that. And it’s a negotiation between what Speaker McCarthy and the House Republicans are going to do and President Biden’s budget, but that’s the way the system works. So, the President needs to negotiate with the House with regard to what that budget is going to look like.