The awkward exchange was during Radhika Fox’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to be the assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water. Fox currently serves in the role on an acting basis and is the Office of Water’s principal deputy assistant administrator.
During the hearing, Inhofe, a Republican senator from Oklahoma, asked Fox about the Trump administration’s changes to the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS, which extended federal authority and protections to streams and wetlands but that others felt was government overreach.
As Fox was answering, Inhofe interrupted her, explaining that he didn’t mean to, but needed to use his remaining time to ask questions of the other two Biden administration nominees at the hearing.
“I appreciate your comments particularly in your opening statement, I enjoyed that,” Inhofe told Fox. “And so I will look forward to working with you.”
“And if you don’t behave, I’m going to talk to your daddy,” he added, to which Fox then laughed.
The senator’s communications director, Leacy Burke, told CNN in a statement that “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.”
“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,” Burke said.
Fox introduced herself to the committee Wednesday as a first-generation American and said her “family is the American dream at work.”
Her parents grew up in rural India, and her grandparents were small farmers “who relied on wells for their drinking water and pit latrines for wastewater management,” she testified.
“Everything I have accomplished is because I stand on the shoulders of my parents’ hard work,” she said, then turning to her father, who was seated behind her at Wednesday’s hearing, and thanking him.
Fox was nominated by Biden in January. If confirmed, she would be the first Asian American and the first woman of color to be nominated to lead the EPA’s Office of Water, she noted.
“Only in America could that happen in one generation. If confirmed, it would be my honor to serve the country where my parents’ hopes and dreams took root and flourished,” Fox said.
Fox was the former CEO for the US Water Alliance and previously worked for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
In her Wednesday hearing, Fox said the Biden administration is in the process of reviewing the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule, the Trump administration’s replacement to WOTUS that rescinded Clean Water Act protections from many streams and wetlands.
Fox said under EPA Administrator Michael Regan’s direction, “we’re really trying to understand what are the lessons learned from an implementation perspective on both the 2015 rule and the 2020 rule.”
She said she and Regan want an “enduring definition” of waters of the US, “one that can withstand administration changes, can protect our waters, and ensure the economic vitality of all communities.”