Bush's Agriculture Undersecretary May Be Headed for Jail

Liliana Segura: Mark Rey faces contempt charges for ignoring the toxic effect of dropping fire retardant on wildfires.
Brace yourselves: Mark Rey could go to jail.

"No!" you say. "Not Mark Rey! I never thought...what will we tell the children?"

Or not.

A more likely question: "Who the hell is Mark Rey?"

Mark Rey is the timber lobbyist turned Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment under Bush. Sworn in in 2001 by Agriculture Secretary Ann ("I plan to serve beef for my Christmas dinner") Veneman, Rey, like his boss, is a pro-business extremist who has used his position to aggressively exercise his disdain for federal regulation. As the person in charge of more than 150 national forests, and overseeing projects on 192,000,000 acres of publicly-owned land, Rey isn't just a fox guarding the henhouse. As the Native Forest Network puts it: "This fox is IN the hen house." And indeed, unlike deposed FEMA director Michael Brown, who seemed to have spent his term daydreaming about Arabian horses, Rey has been busy working to declare open season on national forests.

Now he's in trouble. A federal judge wants to know why Rey has failed in one of his duties, specifically, ignoring the toxic environmental effect of dropping fire retardant on wildfires. Apparently, ammonium phosphate, a fish-killing fertilizer, is the main ingredient in the stuff; the Forest Service's refusal to look into it has violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Now, dead fish aren't sexy to many--and a Republican in legal trouble? Feh. Still, a Republican in handcuffs is another story, and that's where Rey is headed if he continues to shirk responsibility. Upon finding that the Forest Service had neglected it's duties, a federal court gave Rey a one-year extension to get the Forest Service to assess the fire-retardant's threat to wildlife. If more time was needed, according to the AP, "they were to contact the plaintiffs well in advance, and not come to him just before the deadline." Despite this, "the request for an extension was filed on the final day."

The judge didn't find this very cute. "It seems as if the government is playing a not too funny game," he wrote.
Liliana Segura is a writer and activist living in New York