May 17, 2021

Senate Holds Hearing on Radhika Fox Nomination to EPA Office of Water

Fox’s statements stress the importance of water’s value; Sen. Jim Inhofe's comment sparks reactions

The U.S. Senate holds hearing for nomination of Radhika Fox, former US Water Alliance CEO, for the EPA Office of Water Assistant Administrator position during May 12.

(Correction: A previous article listed Fox as having been confirmed to the position. This was inaccurate and this article has been edited to reflect the change. WWD sincerely regrets the error.)

The U.S. Senate held a hearing for the nomination of Radhika Fox, former US Water Alliance CEO, to the position of EPA Office of Water Assistant Administrator during May 12.

If confirmed, Fox would become the first woman of color and first individual of Asian heritage to be both nominated and confirmed to lead the EPA Office of Water.

Fox had been appointed to the Office of Water after President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January. Since that time, she has spearheaded a roundtable discussion with utility leaders in water and wastewater for feedback on the American Jobs Plan, Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan, and has lead the office as the EPA delayed the Lead & Copper Rule Revision effective date and published the Unregulated Contaminants Monitoring Rule 5, which targets per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

National media headlines about the hearing focused on a comment from Sen. Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma, in which he said if she did not “behave” or he’ll “talk to your daddy,” This statement drew a reaction from several industry leaders on Twitter. The details of the interaction can be found at the bottom of this article.

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During her opening statement, Fox talked about her parents, who grew up in rural India. Her grandparents relied on wells for drinking water and pit latrines for managing wastewater. She said her accomplishments in her career are a direct result of her parent’s hard work, and their perspective provides the framework for her to deeply understand water’s value.

“We can’t make policy sitting behind a desk in Washington, D.C.,” Fox said. “We have to actively engage with all who are impacted by our decisions, whether it’s water utilities, farmers and ranchers, community orgs, environmental groups, states, tribes, local officials and many, many others.”

Fox noted how the general public takes for granted that water just works in most areas of the country, but noted that there are many areas where that is not the case. She pointed to the Flint Water Crisis as one example, and to continued drinking water access and clean water issues in Native American communities and tribes.

She also fielded questions regarding the Waters of the United States (WOTUS), which had initially been approved in 2015 but was rescinded in 2020. Fox iterated that a goal for the Office of Water and for EPA Administrator Michael Regan is to review and change the old rule to create one that will be more dependable and reliable for multiple administrations to come.

"We're really trying to understand what are the lessons learned from an implementation perspective on both the 2015 rule and the 2020 rule,” Fox said. “Administrator [Michael] Regan and I want an enduring definition of waters of the US, one that can withstand administration changes.”

Fox also noted that if she were to be confirmed that two critical goals lie with implementing financing and funding programs proposed by congress and administered by her office. She also placed emphasis on addressing PFAS and other emerging contaminants.

“Water is the great uniter,” Fox said. “It can unite this country; it can help pull us out of the compounding crises that face our nation, whether it’s a global pandemic, economic recession, longstanding racial inequities and climate change.”

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Industry Reacts to Sen. Inhofe’s Comment

During the hearing, Sen. Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma interrupted Fox as she answered one of his questions so as to keep the hearing moving on time. In doing so, he said the following:

“I don’t mean to interrupt you, but I’ve got to get around to all three of them [confirmations]. I appreciate your comments, particularly in your opening statement. I enjoyed that. And so I will look forward to working with you and if you don’t behave, I’m going to talk to your daddy, OK?”

The day after the hearing, Cathy Bailey, executive director for Greater Cincinnati Water Works shared on Twitter a response to Inofe’s comment during the hearing.

“Ok, so I’ll bring it up. This is twelve kinds of crazy right here. What the heck?  Behave? Talk to your daddy? @radhikafox deserved better during her confirmation. Another example of the mess we endure as female leaders. The crazy crap comes from everywhere. But still we rise....,” Bailey said in a tweet.

According to a report from CNN, Inhofe’s communications director Leacy Burke shared a statement with the press following the reactions.

“Sen. Inhofe is always moved by the family stories of nominees, and was especially touched by Ms. Fox's tribute to her father during the opening remarks,” Burke told CNN. “He made a lighthearted joke at the end of his questioning to recognize her father again since he was present for the hearing. As he said in the hearing, Inhofe looks forward to working with Ms. Fox once she is confirmed.”

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Several others quoted Bailey’s response and shared their own, including Wendi Wilkes, government regulations and legislation manager for the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators.

“Incredibly frustrating to see an otherwise fantastic hearing overshadowed by an unnecessary and unfair comment towards @radhikafox - who is an incredible leader for the water sector!!” Wilkes said in her quote tweet.

A couple of others also quote tweeted Bailey and shared their feelings. A list of them and links to their tweets follow:

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