Senate Aggies hold CFTC, USDA nominations hearing

The Senate Agriculture Committee July 24 held a hearing on the nominations of Dan Michael Berkovitz to be a commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and James E. Hubbard to be under secretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“While serving different functions, both the CFTC and USDA play critically important roles in supporting our nation’s farmers, ranchers and landowners while also ensuring our federal lands are properly managed,” Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS, said.

“The committee has been reviewing and considering nominations as quickly as possible. It is crucial to have these positions filled, as they both are very important positions at the CFTC and the Department of Agriculture.”

Roberts acknowledged the committee received “multiple expressions of support” for the nominees from organizations in the agriculture, natural resources and financial market sectors, and entered the letters of support into the record.

Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, noted the confirmation hearing was the first time back in committee room since passage of the 2018 farm bill, and much of the hearing centered around Hubbard’s nomination.

“Mr. Hubbard, as under secretary for natural resources and environment at USDA, you would oversee the U.S. Forest Service. You have had a long and distinguished career working on forestry issues at both the state and federal level,” Stabenow said.

“As the Forest Service once again faces a challenging wildfire season, we need strong leadership at the department now more than ever. We’ve seen how climate change has exacerbated drought and insect infestations in our forests, while more and more people are building homes in forested areas. There is no silver bullet to stopping modern-day megafires. But the agency must do everything it can to protect lives and property during wildfires.”

Stabenow and the committee have lately taken an active interest in this topic. In the recently passed omnibus appropriations bill, Congress fixed longstanding Forest Service budget issues. The Senate farm bill’s forestry provisions build on the omnibus bill to encourage science-based and collaborative restoration of the national forest lands.

Stabenow also brought up the need for stronger leadership to reverse the culture of sexual misconduct that has unfortunately plagued the Forest Service for decades. “Harassment and misconduct are not acceptable,” Stabenow said. “The Forest Service must do a better job of establishing a culture where sexual misconduct is not tolerated, where accusations are investigated thoroughly and properly, and where offenders are held accountable.

“Mr. Hubbard, if confirmed, you would lead the effort to right the ship at the Forest Service on sexual misconduct matters. I look forward to hearing how you will oversee the agency and demand accountability on this very important issue.”

In his testimony, Hubbard recalled his childhood roots in rural Kansas, and a professional career in forest management stretching 48 years, beginning in the old growth forests of Oregon, and moving to Colorado’s diverse ecosystem as state forester for Colorado for 20 years, serving under four governors.

“Wildland fire in Colorado demanded special attention due to the risks presented to the land, people and local economy. I soon learned that the issue had to be addressed on a landscape scale and across boundaries,” Hubbard said. “To achieve this, I worked tirelessly with my colleagues in Colorado to secure Congressional support to take action across the National Forest Boundary.

“This authority, known as the Good Neighbor Authority, was born out of a necessity for state, private and federal forests to work together to achieve common land management objectives. It was through my work in Colorado that I became involved with the National Association of State Foresters, a bi-partisan group representing all 50 states. While there, I oversaw the legislative agenda for 10 years, and served as the president of the association in 1990, working with some of you on this committee to craft the first Forestry Title in the farm bill.”

Hubbard went on to work at the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire, and later to the USDA Forest Service as deputy chief for state and private forestry.

“In this role I oversaw cooperative forestry with the states, tribal forestry, wildland fire, forest health and conservation education, all of which are landscape scale, cross-boundary programs,” Hubbard said. “While I retired a few years ago, the call to serve is great, and I am hopeful for your support so that I can take on the many exciting opportunities and challenges at the Forest Service.”

His top three priorities if confirmed are to provide a safe, inclusive work environment, increase sustainable active land management; and share fire protection across jurisdictions.

“I’d like to specifically address the first priority I mentioned in detail, as it is the most important. Secretary Perdue has a motto of ‘Do right, and feed everyone.’ This priority fits squarely into the bucket of ‘Do right’. If confirmed, I will be personally responsible for providing leadership to ensure that everyone is treated right, that instances of harassment are quickly identified and accountable actions are taken,” Hubbard said.

“The Forest Service has already taken steps to both change the culture and improve accountability. If confirmed, my first briefing from NRE staff will be on these activities so that I can assess where the Forest Service is now and identify what I can do to reinforce, and if needed, strengthen these efforts. If confirmed, I will continue to do whatever is necessary to ensure that everyone in our workforce feels safe, that our people are valued and everyone looks out for one another.

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“The U.S. has a natural resource asset unique in the world. My pledge is to see that these forests and grasslands have a sustainable future.”

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].