One of President-elect Joe Biden’s first and most important tasks will be appointing members to his Cabinet. Of the most immediate relevance and concern to the agriculture industry are the appointments to the USDA, Department of the Interior, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In his presidential campaign, Biden made it known that his priority was to be “a president for all Americans” and to have a Cabinet and staff that reflected the diversity of the country. Biden has already selected some appointments for his administration, and more are expected to follow in the coming weeks.
With a year like 2020, farmers and ranchers have relied on USDA for several rounds of direct aid, whether due to retaliatory trade tariffs or market impacts from COVID-19. USDA’s programs and grants have a massive budget—the budget request for fiscal year 2020 totaled $22.4 billion in discretionary funding and $127.5 billion in mandatory funding.
The secretary of Agriculture oversees the 29 agencies and offices under the department across the country. Current Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was appointed by President Donald Trump in January 2017. A handful of people are rumored to be under consideration for the position under Biden.
First on the list is former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) from North Dakota. Heitkamp was also considered for the role under Trump and was a member of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. She is also backed by Biden’s agricultural adviser, former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. However, some progressive farm groups have lashed out about her potential nomination, calling her moderate politics “too conservative” and friendly to the fossil fuel industry.
Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH-11) is also a potential pick for the role. Fudge has served as the representative for Ohio’s 11th District since 2008 and chairs the House Agriculture Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations Subcommittee. The progressive farm groups opposed to Heitkamp’s nomination have expressed their support for Fudge.
Another potential contender is Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN-7), chair of the House Agriculture Committee. Peterson lost his re-election bid in Minnesota, and would be the only House member who lost a seat and could be considered for the role. Peterson is known for his work on various farm bills and his moderate-leaning politics.
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-MN-1) is an organic farmer and House Agriculture Committee member. Progressives are also calling for Pingree’s appointment, as she has introduced legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease food waste, and support small meat processors.
Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17) is another potential pick for the role. Bustos is a member of the House Agriculture Committee and narrowly won reelection in her conservative district.
Finally, DTN reported Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding is under consideration for the role, according to two unnamed farm lobbyists. Redding has served in the Pennsylvania Agriculture Department for 16 years and was raised on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania.
The role of secretary for the Department of the Interior is currently filled by David Bernhardt. Biden’s administration is expected to reverse the Trump administration’s loosened restrictions on public lands and water, and expand conservation efforts.
Michael L. Connor is a former Interior deputy secretary in consideration for the role. Connor severed as the secretary from 2014-2017 and also worked in the department during the Clinton administration. He also served as counsel to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources during the Bush administration.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-3) is currently the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee and has been in Congress for more than 15 years. Grijalva is known for his critical views on how the Trump administration has managed public lands.
Another potential pick is Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM-1), who was first elected to Congress in 2018. She is one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress and would be the first Native American to run the department that oversees federal and tribal lands.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) is another congressperson from New Mexico under consideration for the role. Udall is retiring from Congress this year but has said he would consider joining the Biden administration. Udall has been an advocate for land and water conservation and funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) is also from New Mexico and a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He has been an advocate for clean energy and public land protections.
The Biden administration will likely crack down on environmental policy after the Trump administration rolled back protections. The new EPA administrator will impose much stricter standards.
Daniel Etsy is a Yale University professor at Yale’s forestry, law and business schools, but once served as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. In that role, he launched a “green bank” to promote clean energy, which Biden has also proposed implementing nationwide.
Heather McTeer Toney is another potential pick for the role and ran the EPA’s southeast office under the Obama administration. She is now a senior director at the Moms Clean Air Force and is a proponent of stricter air quality standards.
Mary Nichols is the chair of the California Air Resources Board. Nichols forged tighter standards for air pollution rules in California during the Obama administration and helped establish the state’s cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions.
Collin O’Mara is the CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and has advocated for habitat conservation efforts in Congress. O’Mara was the nation’s youngest Cabinet official in 2009 when he ran the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
Mustafa Santiago Ali is vice president at the National Wildlife Federation and resigned as the EPA assistant associate administrator when Trump took office. His efforts as administrator would likely focus on the impact of air and water pollution on disadvantaged communities. Finally, Richard Revesz is a New York University (NYU) law professor and one of the nation’s leading experts on environmental law. He also served as the NYU law school dean from 2002-2013.
This is just a preliminary list of those rumored to be considered for Biden’s Cabinet and more details will surface over the coming months. — Anna Miller, WLJ editor