Alex Hanson / Flickr sam clovis...
Alex Hanson / Flickr

Sonny Perdue, the political hack appointed to be secretary of agriculture, once labeled mainstream climate science “so ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality.”

As if having a science denier running the Department of Agriculture weren’t disastrous enough, Pr*sident Trump has now, as expected, picked another political hack—a former right-wing talk-radio host named Sam Clovis—to be the undersecretary of research, education, and economics, the USDA’s top science position. Like the man who will be his boss if he is confirmed, the native Iowan also doesn’t accept climate science, saying three years ago that he is “extremely skeptical.”

While obscure to most Americans, the undersecretary’s post is an important one, as Juliet Eilperin and Chris Mooney note:

The overall portfolio that would be managed by Clovis, if he is confirmed by the Senate, is worth about $ 3 billion, with $ 2 billion devoted to research and $ 1 billion to education, according to Catherine Woteki, a nutrition scientist who held the job before Clovis. The person holding the position administers the Agricultural Research Service, the Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The undersecretary also serves as the USDA’s chief scientist. The 2008 farm bill specifies that appointees to the post should be chosen “from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” The measure noted that the job is “responsible for the coordination of the research, education, and extension activities of the Department.”

Woteki has a Ph.D. in human nutrition. She served as the first undersecretary for food safety at the USDA during the Clinton administration. At the time, she was dean of the school of agriculture at Iowa State University and subsequently became global director of scientific affairs for Mars, Inc. Clovis has 25 years service in the Air Force and three college degrees, including a doctorate in public administration. He taught college economics for 10 years. But he has no background in the hard sciences or in agriculture, nor any published work in peer-reviewed scientific or agricultural journals.

Clovis apparently made up for this credentials deficit when he did campaign duty for the Trump-Pence campaign after leaving similar work for Rick Perry. He also hosted the Iowa-based talk-radio program “Impact with Sam Clovis.” During his losing Senate race in the 2014 Iowa Republican primary, he once said that the only reason President Barack Obama hadn’t been impeached was because he is black. 

Since January, Clovis served the USDA as a senior White House adviser. 

If confirmed as undersecretary, Clovis will oversee policies and programs to make sure the department’s scientists conform to “scientific integrity.” How he will accomplish this without a background in science is a head scratcher. Natasha Geiling at Think Progress rightly wonders if Clovis will follow the lead of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt by setting up a “red team/blue team” initiative designed to challenge climate science.

In May, Jessica Huseman at ProPublica gave us a good idea of his likely approach:

Representing the campaign at the Farm Foundation Forum in October, Clovis told E&E News that Trump’s agriculture policy would focus on boosting trade and lessening regulation and not the impact of climate change.

“I think our position is very clearly [that] Mr. Trump is a skeptic on climate change, and we need more science,” he said. “Once we get more science, we are going to make decisions.”

Gawdawful, retrograde, myopic, and money-centric decisions, no doubt. 

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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