President-elect Donald Trump tapped former Republican Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue Wedneday to become the next secretary of agriculture, drawing the ire of a number of environmental activist groups that say Purdue will not take action to reduce the amount of pollution produced by farms.
Purdue’s nomination came just hours before Trump is set to be sworn in as the 45th president. A number of Trump’s Cabinet nominees have already appeared on Capitol Hill for their Senate confirmation hearings as the Trump transition team aims to have those officials in place by Friday.
Perdue grew up in Georgia on a farm, has a doctorate in veterinary medicine and was first elected to the Georgia state senate as a Democrat in 1992. In 1998, he switched his party affiliation to Republican, serving out another four years as a state lawmaker. Perdue then was elected in 2002 as Georgia’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction, a position he held until 2011.
Perdue has spent a significant portion of his life buying and selling farm supplies, including fertilizer. He founded Houston Fertilizer and Grain Co. Inc. in 1976 and owns the company to this day, according to Agriculture.com. Perdue also owns Perdue, Inc., a transportation and logistics company founded in 1993.
Eric Tanenblatt, Perdue’s former chief of staff, touted him Wednesday night as a “successful governor” who “directly shaped agricultural policy and presided over a state with a $74 billion agricultural sector,according to the Washington Post.
Trump, in a statement released Wednesday, echoed a similar confidence in the former Georgia governor and agri-businessman.
“From growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, he has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face, and he is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land,” the president-elect said.
But many environmentalists are not so impressed by Perdue’s accomplishments and experience.
The Environmental Working Group, for example, questioned in a statement released Wednesday Perdue’s willingness and ability to take on big agriculture and defend family farmers against a “rigged” federal subsidy system:
It should be no surprise that the incoming Trump administration, which has proposed putting executives from Big Food and Big Oil in top cabinet positions, would pick someone like Governor Perdue — who has received taxpayer-funded farm subsidies — to lead the Department of Agriculture. We hope the Senate will look closely at these subsidies as well as at the political contributions Governor Perdue has received from food giants, farm chemical companies and farm lobbyists, and ask whether he will help fix or help defend a subsidy system rigged against family farmers and the environment. It’s certainly hard to imagine that a former fertilizer salesman will tackle the unregulated farm pollution that poisons our drinking water, turns Lake Erie green and fouls the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Another environmental advocacy group, Friends of the Earth, expressed the same worry.
“We are concerned that Perdue will use his position at the USDA to prioritize the profits of big agribusiness and trade over the interests of American farmers, workers and consumers,” said Kari Hamerschlag, Friends of the Earth deputy director of food and technology, according to McClatchy.
The Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental organization according to its website, said in a statement that it worries about the impacts Perdue’s leadership might have on national forests, which millions of people visit each year.
“Their wildlife, clean water and scenery are a crucial piece of the outdoor economy. It’s vital to have someone at the helm that can manage our forests for the future so all families can continue to enjoy them — not open them to drilling, logging, fracking or other self-serving interests driven by crony capitalism,” the statement reads.