Jun 02, 2023

Attorney General Brenna Bird joins lawsuits against Biden

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird touts the Billion Pill Pledge as an effective part of the state's crusade against the opioid crisis. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Republican Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird has joined multiple lawsuits against the Biden administration in June as Republicans criticize the president's approach to issues like fentanyl and climate change.

Bird, alongside attorneys general for 18 other states, challenged the Environmental Protection Agency's decisions allowing California to implement rules phasing out many diesel-powered trucks and to implement higher emission standards.

The new regulations would require manufacturers to sell higher quantities of electric trucks, buses and other large vehicles starting in 2024, with a requirement for between 40% and 75% of vehicles sold be zero-emission by 2035. It's one of multiple steps California, a state struggling with heavy air pollution, is taking to reduce vehicle emissions, but it's a hefty ask: less than 3% of heavy trucks in the country were electric in 2022.

Bird criticized the rules in a Tuesday letter, saying the EPA under the Biden administration was pursing an "aggressive climate change agenda" that seeks to force truckers to buy electric vehicles. She said the new regulations are illegal under the federal Clean Air Act and other federal laws, and will increase costs for businesses and consumers.

"The EPA and California have no right or legal justification to force truckers to follow their radical climate agenda," Bird said in a news release. "America would grind to a halt without truckers who deliver our food, clothes and other necessities. But rather than support our hard-working truckers, Biden continues to empty their wallets and force them to drive electric trucks for his radical climate change agenda."

Notably for Iowa, a widespread switch to electric vehicles would reduce the demand for liquid fuels, including ethanol and biodiesel. In a news release, the state attorney general said California is a "major decision-maker for the future of the national trucking industry," and that these state regulations would have national impacts on the trucking industry.

California's moves have also been adopted by other states, with more considering higher zero-emissions standards for manufacturers. Bird said the lawsuit against the EPA, a petition for review, challenges the rules on the basis that the decision will have a "nationwide scope or effect."

"Iowa isn't going to take a backseat as the EPA and California try to regulate truckers out of business," Bird said. "We’re pushing back."

Iowa state lawmakers passed a law this year that caps noneconomic damages to $5 million for victims in cases where a trucking company's employee caused a crash.

Bird also joined a multi-state lawsuit Thursday over the Biden administration's new eligibility standards for asylum-seekers following the end of Title 42. The policy, first implemented by former President Donald Trump and kept by Biden, allowed U.S. officials to expel them and prohibit entry to the country for presenting a health risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republicans, including Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, have linked the end of Title 42 to the fentanyl crisis, calling for increased U.S.-Mexico border security. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration found much of the fentanyl brought into the country came not from undocumented immigrants or illegal border crossings, but through legal ports of entry by U.S. citizens.

Bird criticized the Biden administration for creating new rules allowing "lawful pathways" for those seeking asylum to citizenship and to schedule entry into the country, arguing that it will encourage more illegal immigration. She also criticized the new rules, set by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, for creating new eligibility standards without Congressional input.

"President Biden is turning the border crisis into chaos," Bird said in a news release. "This open border rule turns every state into a border state. It strains our already-overburdened border security and invites an increase of illegal drugs, crime, and human trafficking into our communities."

As she called for more action to stop drug trafficking via border security, Bird also joined onto a letter Friday calling for the U.S. Senate to pass the "HALT Fentanyl Act" and reclassify fentanyl analogues — lab-created drugs chemically resembling fentanyl — as Schedule I drugs.

Bird said the legislation will allow law enforcement to pursue and prosecute crimes for the sale and use of potentially deadly drugs.

"The fentanyl crisis is a national emergency," Bird said. "It impacts every corner of our state and country, sneaking its way into our homes, schools, and workplaces. Criminalizing fentanyl analogues will give law enforcement the tools they need to fight the deadly fentanyl epidemic, crack down on drug dealers, and save lives."

by Robin Opsahl, Iowa Capital Dispatch June 6, 2023

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Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.