On a campaign stop Tuesday in the Quad-Cities, Iowa Republican Senate hopeful Joni Ernst criticized the federal Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to clarify how waterways will be defined under the Clean Water Act.
Ernst, who is seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, met with a group of people, many of them farmers, at a rural Long Grove farm for a wide-ranging discussion that included regulations, farm subsidies and how to pay for the country's transportation needs.
Many of the comments from the group had to do with what they said are overly burdensome federal rules. And Ernst was critical of an EPA proposal to define waterways.
The proposal comes in the wake of two Supreme Court decisions that questioned the government's jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.
"The EPA is suggesting that the government should be in charge of any waterways out there, even if it’s a ditch that run through a farmer’s property, if a farmer wants to build a terrace or plant a tree. … It’s really gotten very out of control," Ernst said.
Ernst added that, like those with farm backgrounds, she believes in clean water, but the EPA has grown too big. In the GOP Senate primary, she proposed eliminating the agency, a statement that liberal groups have criticized her for.
Last month, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy sought to dispel what she called myths about the waterway rule, saying that "all normal farming practices are still exempt."
The EPA says it is not expanding its jurisdiction over ditches or trying to regulate land use.
Those assurances have not assuaged some congressional and rural critics, and in her remarks Ernst said common sense needs to be applied to regulations and that it is time to "start rolling back the things that don’t make sense."
Ernst is facing Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, in the Senate race, and polls say the two are running neck and neck.
Ernst, a state senator from Red Oak, mostly listened Tuesday to comments from the people who were invited to attend after they sat down to lunch.
Many of the questions centered strictly on farm issues, but there also were questions about how to fund infrastructure, an issue that was at play in the Republican primary.
When one questioner said it was time to raise the gasoline tax, Ernst told him that because cars are getting more fuel-efficient and a gasoline tax would not have the same revenue-generating capacity it once did, that is not a long-term fix.
Still, she suggested it might be part of the answer to funding the nation's roads and bridges.
"So it is not a long-term fix, and that’s why the federal government is struggling with this issue right now, too, because they have recognized that the gas tax is not a long-term solution for funding the infrastructure. It could be part of the solution, but it’s not the long-term solution," Ernst said.
During the GOP primary, Iowa businessman Mark Jacobs criticized Ernst for having voted previously for a gasoline tax increase while in the state Senate. During a May debate in the Quad-Cities, Ernst responded by saying that vote was a mistake.
"A spokesperson for Ernst said after the event Tuesday that the senator opposes a gas tax increase."
Ernst also said she will continue to support the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires a certain amount of renewable fuels be blended into the nation's gasoline supply.
Braley and his allies have questioned her support for the Renewable Fuel Standard because of the support her campaign has received from people who have been critical of the government support. Ernst said she backs an "all-of-the-above" energy policy.