Obama’s new hotshot at NOAA

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Jane Lubchenco, one of the nation’s top marine ecologists, has been picked to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sources say, an indication that President-elect Barack Obama wants to restore integrity to the science-based agency buffeted by politics in recent years.

Her appointment, and the likely appointment of John Holdren of Harvard and Woods Hole Research Center, signals a U-turn in the federal government’s approach to greenhouse gases and global warming. Holdren, rumored to be named Friday as Obama’s science advisor, has likened our current situation to ‘being in a car with bad brakes driving toward a cliff in the fog.’


The two anticipated appointments have been met with relief -- and even glee -- among scientific and environmental organizations. Their members have spent a half-dozen years hand-wringing over the politicization of science and worrying about lost opportunities to preserve remnants of nature and the resiliency of the planet.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which makes up the largest portion of the Department of Commerce, does much of the federal government’s research on global warming, as well as regulate fisheries. Lubchenco, among her various efforts to protect the abundance and diversity of marine life, has led a team of researchers at Oregon State University studying the link of climate change devastating sea life in coastal waters off the Pacific Northwest.

“Our oceans are experiencing the effects of global climate change –- melting sea ice, acidification, and coral loss,’ said Vikki Spruill, president of the Ocean Conservancy. ‘It is especially reassuring to have a world-renowned ecologists as NOAA administrator who knows where the biggest environmental challenge of our lifetime is taking place: beneath the sea and along our coastlines.’

Both Lubchenco and Holdren have fat resumes, with a long list of degrees and awards, and both previously held the post of president of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science.

-- Kenneth R. Weiss