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April 20, 2009

Vilsack Staffing Up
There have been a number of new USDA hires announced in the last few days -- the undersecretary in charge of nutrition programs and his deputy, as well as the head of the USDA research service. Now comes word that USDA Sec'y Tom Vilsack has named Robert Bonnie of the Environmental Defense Fund as his Senior Advisor for Environment and Climate. Each member of this group of appointments has come with varying amounts of controversy attached and Bonnie will likely be no different.

Bonnie runs EDF's environmental markets programs and was also EDF's point person for US Farm Bill negotiations. It's worth noting that the EDF has been accused by some environmentalists of being overly cozy with its corporate partners -- Joe Romm hit EDF hard over its involvement with a group of large companies and enviro groups who put out a "moderate" cap-and-trade proposal. Meanwhile, the EDF's market-based incentives programs have been singled out as particularly problematic by some. On the other hand, the fact that Vilsack's top environmental advisor comes from one of America's pre-eminent green groups is noteworthy to say the least.

Vilsack along with President Obama have made it clear they are committed to creating a market in so-called ecological services and the announcement of Bonnie's appointment stresses his experience in that area:
Bonnie is a leading national expert on the use of markets as a means to reward stewardship on farms, ranches and forest lands, including carbon crediting and conservation banking for endangered species.
We can expect to see continued, serious movement in that area. Also, Bonnie's direct involvement with the USDA's conservation programs through his work on the 2008 Farm Bill suggests a real commitment at the Obama USDA to what has been a program whose potential for bringing change has far outstripped its funding.

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