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Senate confirms Bonnie to run USDA farm subsidy and land stewardship programs

On a bipartisan 76-19 roll call, the Senate confirmed Robert Bonnie, who was part of a think-tank proposal for a “carbon bank” at USDA to slow global warming, as agriculture undersecretary for farm production and conservation on Tuesday. Bonnie has served as USDA climate adviser since January.

Bonnie was committed “to tackling the climate crisis and boosting farm income at the same time,” said Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow. A forester by training and co-owner with his wife of a 285-acre farm in the Washington exurbs, Bonnie was agriculture undersecretary for natural resources during the Obama era.

During his confirmation hearing in July, Bonnie said climate mitigation initiatives at USDA would be voluntary, incentive-based, and locally led. “If they don’t work for producers and landowners, they’re not going to work for the climate.” Republican senators have fretted the Biden administration would mandate climate action on the farm and argued the USDA needs congressional approval if it wants to set up a carbon bank.

The scope of USDA’s climate mitigation agenda remains under debate.

“I appreciate and support his commitment to advancing voluntary and incentive-based climate programs that stay within the bounds of existing law,” said Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, the Republican leader on the Agriculture Committee. Boozman was prominent among Republicans in questioning the authority for a carbon bank.

All 19 of the senators who voted against confirmation of Bonnie were Republicans, including two members of the Agriculture Committee. Voting for Bonnie were 46 Democrats and 30 Republicans. Not voting were four Democrats and one Republican.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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