‘I had no input in the budget’ — Perdue

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, March 24, 2017

Trump’s pick for Agriculture secretary, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, today said he had no role in the Trump administration’s proposal to cut agriculture programs by more than a fifth in the next fiscal year.

“I had no input in the budget,” Perdue said at his confirmation hearing in the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, in response to questions from ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). “I think you saw it before I did.”

Perdue testified that he would speak up for farm and rural priorities, adding that he believes President Trump understands many of his supporters are from small towns and farm country.

“I’ll be a strong and tenacious advocate for that,” Perdue said.

The budget outline released last week would cut programs at the Department of Agriculture by 20.7 percent in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, although some programs would see deeper reductions and some would see steady funding.

Stabenow said the proposed cuts are “extremely concerning” and asked the nominee whether he supports rural water development and other initiatives that would see reduced funding.

Perdue said he does, and that he agrees organic agriculture has a place in farm policy.

“I think consumers around the country have demonstrated that,” Perdue said.

As head of USDA, Perdue would manage not only farm programs, but the Forest Service, which oversees 193 million acres nationwide.

He said he supports efforts to change how Congress funds wildfire suppression at the Forest Service, in order to end the agency’s practice of borrowing money from other forest management programs.

The government should pay for wildfire suppression similarly to how it covers hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters, Perdue said in response to questions from Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

Perdue said he would support putting more resources into maintaining forest health, as a way to diminish the threat of wildfire.

“Healthy forests are helpful in preventing forest fires,” Perdue said.

In leading USDA’s forest programs, Perdue would face a balancing act between timber production and forest stewardship. The Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank, said today that Perdue “brings no background whatsoever in forest policy or land management to his prospective new job,” and released a report calling for Forest Service policies less steered toward timber production (see related story).

In its report, CAP said Perdue has received timber industry backing and is seen as a champion of logging interests.

Georgia has more timberland than any other state, according to the Georgia Forestry Commission. Most of that 24.3 million acres is privately owned, the commission said.

Perdue’s tenure as Georgia governor came up in introductory remarks by one of his allies, Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), who spent several minutes defending Perdue’s work on removing Confederate imagery from the state’s flag.

Perdue oversaw a statewide referendum in 2004 on a new flag design — replacing a flag with prominent stars and bars — but was criticized for not more vigorously rejecting the Civil War-era symbolism.

“It took time, it took experience, it took talent,” said Scott, who had served with Perdue in the state Senate, adding that previous governors Roy Barnes and Zell Miller had tried to tackle the issue.

“This has been an ongoing process,” Scott said.

Perdue ran for governor in 2001 and 2002 in part on a promise to put the flag issue to a popular vote. Perdue gave voters a choice between a design Barnes had proposed and another design based on the state’s 1879 flag, and voters picked the older design.