Canton Repository

July 27, 2001

Canton native scrutinized for conservation post


WASHINGTON — Mark E. Rey, nominated for a top conservation-related post at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, won praise from lawmakers and labor unions while drawing skepticism from environmental groups during a confirmation hearing Thursday.

President Bush nominated the Canton native to be undersecretary of natural resources and environment. If approved by the Senate, he will be responsible for the 191-million acre national forest system, as well as programs that promote conservation on farms and other private land. The job pays $133,700.

“He can be tough, he can be skilled,” said Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He added that Rey, 48, is “always sensitive and working toward a solution.”

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who oversaw Rey’s work when Rey was a key staff member of the energy panel, called the former Eagle Scout “without question ... the most knowledgeable person I have ever met (concerning) the U.S. Forest Service.”

Several unions representing thousands of workers in the lumber, wood product and paper industries endorsed Rey, who lives in Washington, D.C. And the National Education Association praised him for helping secure passage of a bill last year that increased funding for schools in rural areas.

But Sen. Thomas Harkin, chairman of the Agriculture Committee, which is reviewing Rey’s qualifications, noted that several environmental groups have expressed concern about Rey’s past involvement with the timber industry, which has battled with environmental groups over federal timber policy.

The letter from the groups, including the Sierra Club and National Environmental Trust, “basically expressed concern,” said Harkin, D-Iowa. “They didn’t say they were opposed.”

Harkin asked Rey, “Why are all these groups so concerned?”

Rey responded that he and environmental groups had their differences when he was a lobbyist for the wood products industry from 1976 to 1995. But since he went to work for the Senate five years ago, Rey added, he has been available to, and sensitive to the concerns of, environmentalists.

Testifying before the committee, Rey said his goals include collaborating with Democrats to protect the nation’s natural resources and respecting the role of Congress in developing natural resource policies.

“Finally, I offer you an open mind,” he said. “I consider myself to be a good and active listener. If you choose to confirm me, I pledge to keep open both my office door and my thinking processes.”

Several in Rey’s family attended the hearing, including his wife, Francesca, and daughter, Sally. His parents, who live in Canton, also were there.<P>
Rey went to Central Catholic High School before earning two bachelor’s degrees and one master’s degree in wildlife management, forestry and natural resource policy from the University of Michigan.

After Harkin expressed support for a ban on new road construction in national forests that was enacted by the Clinton administration, Rey said he agreed with Harkin on “the need to protect roadless values.” But Rey said the two might disagree on “the best way to get to that point.”

Addressing complaints from Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who said the government’s maintenance of national forests has slipped even though budgets have increased, Rey said an effort already has begun to speed up the distribution of funding to field offices.

“I’ll be helping in making sure that we accomplish that goal,” he said.

Rey’s investments, including retirement savings, are valued between $513,000 and $1.2 million, according to his financial disclosure report.<P>
The agriculture committee and full Senate have yet to vote on Rey’s nomination.