“All Kinds of Fun”

February 24, 2009
NOAA Administrator nominee Jane Lubchenco (Courtesy Wikipedia)

NOAA Administrator nominee Jane Lubchenco (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Travels to foreign lands interfered with posting about NOAA Administrator-nominee Jane Lubchenco’s Senate confirmation hearing last week. She is a Distinguished Professor of Zoology at Oregon State University, and a prominent voice guiding U.S. policy and non-governmental efforts to study and protect the watery part of the world. Lubchenco served on President Bill Clinton’s National Science Board and contributed to a National Academy of Sciences climate change report for George H.W. Bush. She is also a Nicholas Institute Advisory Board member, and provided impetus for the creation of Real Oceans, believing that there should be a Web resource to learn about holistic stewardship of ocean ecosystems.

Lubchenco appeared before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee earlier this month. Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV conducted her hearing together with that of Harvard’s John Holdren, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Rockefeller said he convened both hearings at once to encourage senators “to cross-question them and have all kinds of fun.”

The Pew Oceans Commission received a nod in her opening testimony. Lubchenco emphasized the need to create a National Climate Service, analogous to the National Weather Service, and listed off familiar items on NOAA’s plate: “Being administrator of NOAA is a big job. Some of the challenges I know well: ending overfishing, anticipating the consequences of climate change, preparing for natural disasters in a time when resources are tight, restoring ecosystems on which we depend for food, water and livelihood. Other challenges, I am just learning. Getting the satellite program back on track is chief among them.” Here are a few highlights:

On collaboration between NOAA and NASA, particularly regarding the NPOESS and GOES-R satellites: “Senator, I believe that both NOAA and NASA intend to have the best possible relationships. I think we can always improve on relationships. As you are aware, the — there’s a third entity involved in these satellites, and that is the Department of Defense. It’s my opinion that some of the difficulties that we’ve gotten into in terms of the two satellite programs you mentioned are partly a reflection of the tripart arrangement between those three agencies that has not worked to the extent that it needs to. I think that’s an embarrassment. I think it needs to be fixed.”

On the creation of a National Climate Service: “The vision for the national climate service would be a collaboration across a number of relevant agencies. NOAA currently has a wealth of climate data. It has deep experience in assembling that data and creating — using it to — putting it into models that help us understand how the climate system works. And we are at a point now where we are able to do short-term forecasting of climate-related events, like El Ninos, for example, that have huge consequences for weather patterns around the world.”

On aquaculture in federal waters: “Aquaculture, wherever it is practiced, is a very key element of our food production systems, and that certain types of aquaculture are much more benign in terms of their potential impact on the environment. I don’t believe that we have identified the right conditions under which aquaculture is sustainable… [T]here are more than 220 species that are farmed by aquaculture. And each one has different issues, and where it happens is critically important. So I am not prepared to put off the table offshore aquaculture at this point. I do believe that we should not move ahead in doing that at scale until we are convinced that, in fact, it can be done in a way that is not damaging.”

On polarization between fishing communities and regulators: “It appears to be a seriously dysfunctional relationship. I would pledge to make every attempt to try to begin to rebuild the trust. I have seen a number of programs where scientists and fishermen together are taking the data that they can both believe in and both rely upon to serve as a basis for having a reasonable discussion about making some — what are inevitably some very tough choices. There are not easy choices here. And it’s often a choice between today and tomorrow. We have seen the strong benefit of rebuilding stocks. The 12 stocks that have been rebuilt since 2001 now bring in over $2 billion into our economy. And yet jobs today are critically important, even more so than they might have been even just a few years ago.”

On legal jousting over Columbia River salmon: “This has been one of the most challenging issues for the Pacific Northwest. And I think the situation that we are in now is a result of a long history of finger- pointing at other drivers of change, both on the land side and the ocean side, and that there was a significant amount of time lost to denial of a problem and trying to blame it on someone else instead of moving on with achieving solutions.”

On the health of Chesapeake Bay: “What I do think the Chesapeake Bay situation brings to the fore, though, is the challenges inherent in managing activities that cost not only the land and, in this case, the estuary, the Bay, but also that cross multiple jurisdictions — local, state, multiple states, as well as different states and federal agencies…

“Chesapeake Bay really is a microcosm of a lot of the larger ocean issues, coastal issues in particular, where there are activities on land that impact the quality and the health of the ecosystems and therefore the resources and the jobs that are available. And figuring out the right mechanisms to do that integration is a huge challenge. One of my goals at NOAA is to bring a more holistic understanding of these interactions across different sectors, and to think about marine spatial planning in a comprehensive sense, with all appropriate parties, and to do a better job of resolving issues before they get to be so incredibly challenging that it’s very, very difficult to do something about them.”

These are just some issues — all kinds of fun — that await Lubchenco’s confirmation, which is expected after the nominee for Commerce Secretary.

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