WASHINGTON, July 24, 2013 – The nominations of Krysta Harden to be deputy secretary of agriculture and Robert Bonnie to be under secretary for natural resources and the environment encountered no opposition yesterday at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing and have no apparent obstacles to Senate confirmation.

Half a dozen of the 20 committee members posed no difficult questions, instead gaining commitments from both nominees to devote attention to issues such catfish inspection, a topic raised often by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., the committee’s ranking minority member.

Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., suggested that both would be have little difficulty winning committee approval when she and Cochran could schedule a vote “as soon as possible.” Cochran added, “I look forward to favorable consideration by the committee.”

Harden’s nomination to succeed Kathleen Merrigan in the second-highest post at USDA received bipartisan endorsements from members of Congress from her native Georgia – former Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., who represents the southwest Georgia district where Harden’s parents farm.

“I find it hard to believe that I first met her in 1980,” Chambliss said when she was a volunteer in the congressional campaign of former Rep. Charles Hatcher, whom she later married. “She hasn’t got any older, but I have. She’s well prepared for this position.”

Stabenow said the committee had received letters from more than 140 farm and rural organizations urging Harden’s confirmation and from roughly 90 conservation and forestry groups in support of Bonnie.

“When I graduated from college, I did not see any opportunity in rural Georgia,” Harden said in prepared remarks. “Too many people today see the same thing.” She pledged to “continue our efforts to strengthen the rural economy in several key areas” such as increasing exports and “expanding local and regional markets” by adding new farmers markets and food hubs. Among other things, she promised to “continue to foster a new era of civil rights at USDA. We have taken steps to correct past errors and ensure that history does not repeat itself.”

Bonnie, who has been a senior advisor to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, would succeed Harris Sherman. He said he learned about conservation growing up on a farm in Kentucky and helping manage family-owned forest land in South Carolina. The experience showed him the “challenge of maintaining family owned farms and forests while being good stewards.”

Replying to a question from Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., about regulations that sometimes are “so burdensome and complex that people can’t figure out how to comply,” Harden acknowledged that “common sense sometimes gets lost” when regulations are written. “I understand that. I can’t tell you I can fix everything, but I can tell you that I understand and, if confirmed, I will do what I can to make sure that common sense is applied.”

She was noncommittal to Cochran’s question about catfish inspection, “How can we implement in a responsible way an aquaculture inspection program that guarantees a wholesome supply?” Harden said only, “I will work with you on a path forward if I am confirmed.”

Chambliss elicited an assessment from Bonnie that a Natural Resources Conservation Service pilot program, using Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds, was “seeing some real results” in combating the rise of pigweed resistant to glyphosate herbicides. “I hope we can take lessons from that and use EQIP and financial and technical assistance” to help, Bonnie said.

Both described the challenge of managing with reduced budgets. “Catastrophic wildfires are an enormous challenge for the Forest Service,” Bonnie said. The acreage burned by forest fires has doubled since the 1970s, he said, and “fire seasons are now 60 to 80 days longer.”



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