Trump fills his final cabinet post with another climate denier

The secretary of agriculture can do a lot to combat climate change — but Sonny Perdue might not be interested.

CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman
CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman

Despite running on a platform of revitalizing rural America, President-elect Trump waited until the day before his inauguration to name his secretary of agriculture, reportedly choosing former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) just hours before he is sworn in as president.

As secretary of agriculture, Perdue would oversee a department with about 100,000 employees and a budget of roughly $140 million. Unlike some of Trump’s cabinet nominees, Perdue would come to the department familiar with the issues he would oversee — Perdue was raised on a Georgia farm and has his doctorate in veterinary medicine.

But like nearly all of Trump’s cabinet nominees, Perdue breaks markedly from the scientific community on the issue of climate change.

In 2014, Perdue mocked “the left” and “mainstream media” for its coverage of climate change. Writing in an op-ed published in the National Review, Perdue challenged the connection between climate change and drought, extreme precipitation, and other weather events. He also wrote that climate change has “become a running joke among the public” and “liberals have lost all credibility when it comes to climate science because their arguments have become so ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality.”

In 2007, in the midst of an epic drought, Perdue implored residents to pray for rain, holding a prayer vigil outside of the Georgia state Capitol.

His track record on environmental issues is not much better. As governor, he championed the expansion of factory farms, and pushed against gas taxes and EPA efforts to enforce the Clean Air Act.

As secretary of agriculture, Perdue would oversee programs aimed at curbing agriculture’s environmental footprint and contribution to climate change. In 2013, agriculture in the United States accounted for 7.7 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Most of that comes from either methane, released largely through livestock production, or nitrous oxide, released when excess fertilizer isn’t absorbed by soil.

Mitigating and adapting to climate change became a key tenet of the USDA under Obama’s secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack. In 2015, the USDA launched the department’s Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture & Forestry, a set of voluntary initiatives aimed at curbing U.S. agriculture’s carbon footprint. These programs aimed to cut net emissions related to agriculture by 120 million metric tons per year by 2025 — the equivalent of taking more than 25 million passenger vehicles off the road.

Last May, Vilsack told ThinkProgress that he hoped the program would continue through the next administration, arguing that it makes financial sense for producers.

“I think the demand for this is not necessarily dependent on who the secretary of agriculture is, or what Congress looks like, or who’s in the White House,” Vilsack said. “It really is going to be driven by the desire of producers to be good stewards and to contribute to a goal that the country has set to reduce emissions and to allow us to be more resilient over time.”