The Questionable Authority

Updated – The archived video is now available on the committee website, so I’ve been able to go back and fill in the details I missed due to earlier technical problems.

Due to technical problems, this liveblog of the Confirmation hearings for Jane Lubchenco and John Holdren begins in progress. Dr. Lubchenco is giving her opening statement.

…….

Opening Statements:

Dr. Holdren:

Honor and privilege to appear as Office of Science and Technology Policy nominee. Office has two areas of responsibility. One is input into policy, education and training, and fostering innovation. Other is science and technology FOR policy – making sure that good science is available to policymakers. Need to recruit good talent and use it well.

Challenges at intersection of science and policy:

Investments in science and technology have driven huge part of economy. In economic crisis, must resist temptation to decrease science funding. R&D in space is particularly important, not a luxury. Crucial to national defense, communications, weather forecasting, earth conditions, and more. Investments in space are a bargain.

Important function in promoting move from R&D to application. Fostering capacity for translating Sci&Tech knowledge to real benefits. Development of new tech crucial at intersection of energy, defense, climate change.

Information technology changed global communications, but we’re just scratching surface of possibilities. Better use of IT key to improving K-12 education and beyond, and not just to produce scientists. STEM education key across the board. Education key to providing Americans with the tools they need to participate successfully in our democracy.

Sci and Tech crucial to national security. DARPA important. So is international cooperation. Unilateral action not good.

Speed of advancement is largely a policy choice.

Dr. Lubchenco:

Introduced by Senator Wyden (D-OR). “Bionic Woman of Good Science”. Several minutes more gushing.

Honor to be here. Thanks Senator Wyden. Thanks family. (Earth to Dr. Holdren, there might be something you forgot to do.)

Personal history about love of oceans. Oceans essential to human life and prosperity. Healthy ocean ecosystems are absolutely critical. Science should inform, but not dictate, policy. NOAA creates jobs, protects lives and property, premier government agency for applied science.

Need to bring back fisheries. Improve weather forecasting. Work on climate forecasting. Protect and recover coasts, bays, oceans.

Need better information about potential local impacts of climate change. Will work to create National Climate Service if confirmed, along lines of Weather Service.

Question for both from Sen. Rockefeller (I guess I missed the Holdren opening):

How do you protect integrity of science?

Lubchenco:

Science doesn’t tell us what to do, it helps us understand potential effects of different choices. Hopes scientific info will be available to inform decisions, not dictate choices.

(sounds sort of familiar)

Holdren:

Agrees. Scientific facts aren’t everything in decisionmaking, but are something. Need to distinguish between best assessment of science. Need to clarify rules for disseminating information.

Rockefeller:

Many scientists have different views – how serious climate change, what do we have to do – remarkable differences, all scientists, how resolve?

Holdren: Will always be diverse opinions on complex science. In matters of policy, bet with the odds. Look at range of opinion, center of gravity, organizations. Go with the bulk of the opinion of the scientists WHO HAVE ACTUALLY STUDIED THAT ISSUE. Relevant expertise. Climate change real, accelerating, caused by us, getting more dangerous.

Sen Hutchison:

Softball question. Will you help our committee if we ask for it?

Both: Duh.

Hutchison:

Need for more basic research, need to stay on top of innovation. Discuss. Also, NASA – gap in manned spaceflight unacceptable. Dr. Holdren – are you committed to reviving National Space Council.

Holdren:

Spaceflight a priority. Looking into space council. Gap a concern, look forward to working on how to shrink gap in tough budget times. Fundamental research – agree we need to pay attention to support for fundamental research.

Fundamental research responsibility of government. High risk – high payoff, but relatively cheap for government.

(take that, Tim.)

Hutchison:

14 agencies in government looking into climate change. No coherent strategy. Can we do stuff to mitigate effects. Can we reduce effects of a hurricane or tornado through weather mitigation or modification. We should research this. Is this a good idea, which agency should do it.

Holdren:

Power of nature is enormous. Research is good, but immense challenge. Need to update legislation that lets us coordinate.

Lubchenco:

1/3 of GDP depends on accurate forecasting. Looking into mitigation and adaptation efforts = good. Fundamental research = good.

Isakson (R-GA):

Drought in NC/GA area. River basin flow issue. Flow dictated to protect sturgeon.

Holdren:

Base policy on best scientific understanding. Bad if doesn’t happen because of poor coordination, and we should fix that. Everyone wants that.

Nelson (D-FL):

Need to enhance communication between NASA and NOAA. Comment?

Lubchenco:

We all want things to be fixed. And it’s not just our fault, it’s DoD’s fault, too.

Nelson:

Space travel rocks. Obama said wants to reactivate National Space Council. Want to comment on the record more?

Holdren:

Pres. still committed to pledge. Talking about how to make it happen. Will happen.

Nelson:

NASA shouldn’t be handmaiden of Office of Management and Budget. “Green Eyeshade Person” shouldn’t be making policy. Wants more NASA money. And are you going to have associate directors.

Holdren: 4 associate directors same as Clinton adm.

Sci, Tech, Environment, Nat Sec/For Affairs.

Nelson:

How are you going to coordinate with other agencies.

Holdren:

That’s our job. Other people – Lubchenco, Chu, etc – great folks, worked together for long time.

Nelson:

Oh, and NOAA needs NASA for forecasting, right (I really want more money for spaceflight in FL.) National Climate Service – how will interact w/ NASA?

Lubchenco:

Will be collaborative effort. NOAA experts already let us do short term climate forecasting (eg El Ninos). Will be NWS-type operation, but will interact with other agencies.

Martinez (R-FL)

Wants national hurricane investigation program – public/private/academic collaboration to improve forecasting.

Lubchenco:

Good idea. Smart investment.

Martinez:

What about hurricane mitigation? Also, fishing quotas – quotas don’t seem to match research. You need to put common sense into fishing. But we want to take more fish, either for fun and profit or food and profit. I don’t know if I want to take sides, I’m just taking sides. That wasn’t question, just comment. On National Climate Service – good luck. But reality, what’s going to suffer so you can do it?

Lubchenco:

Haven’t dug deep into thinking yet. Compelling concept, but I’m not dumb enough to promise you any tradeoffs right here and now.

Martinez:

Is now talking about human capital and immigration for some reason.

Holdren:

Agree with whatever the hell you just said.

Begich (D-AK-not felon):

Parochial issues. Alaska has banned fish farming. We manage fisheries real good. Opinions on support or no support of agriculture in federal waters.

Lubchenco:

Legit questions on offshore aquaculture. Aquaculture is key part of food production. Some types more benign than others. Need scientific information on how to achieve information on low-impact, sustainable aquaculture that doesn’t hurt wild-caught fisheries. Haven’t identified right conditions yet. Priority. Different issues with each species. Not prepared to take offshore aquaculture off the table, but shouldn’t be done unless can’t be damaging.

Begich:

We banned it in Alaska. How would you look at Alaska’s determination to say no.

Lubchenco:

Respect Alaska’s position, look forward to dialogue about what to do, esp w/ species that move between state and federal waters.

Begich:

You’ve been a proponent of using antiquities act to close off big chunks of Pacific. Without stakeholders opinions considered.

Lubchenco:

MPAs and no-take areas bring big benefits to fisheries by allowing for restoration. Best processes for protection require stakeholder input, transparency. (Transparency should be banned word for overuse and meaninglessness this year.)

Snowe (R-ME):

Sound science rocks. How do we use it in climate change? What will you advise President with regard to emissions?

Holdren:

Currently at 385 ppm. Should reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, compatible w/ restricting increase to ~2 degrees and avoiding worst outcomes with climate change. But is not going to be easy. Can’t do it w/o China, India, rest of industrialized world. China and India should start to engage – know climate change is hurting them.

Snowe:

So no need to adjust recommendation?

Holdren:

How to adjust energy and environmental policies is going to be complex ongoing process. Lots of discussion to come. Congress is important, looking forward to your (Sen. Snowe) leadership. Going to be long slog, enormous challenge.

Snowe:

Fisheries. Concerned about divide between industry and regulators. Very polarized. 20 days at sea limit in ground fishing. You dismissed recommendations of industry. How will you repair this relationship. Regulatory process arbitrary.

Lubchenco:

Need to create new climate of trust. Need to trust data, process, diverse points of view. Polarization is bad. Will try to rebuild trust. But fisheries management requires choices between today and tomorrow. We’re voting for tomorrow, so we’re gonna keep rebuilding stocks.

Klobuchar (D-MN):

Great Lakes issues. Low water levels, invasive species.

Lubchenco:

I embrace the challenge of getting up to speed on Great Lakes. Haven’t been briefed on Great Lakes programs yet.

Klobuchar:

Great Lakes part of Climate Service program?

Lubchenco:

Of course.

Klobuchar:

Invasive species and ballast water discharge?

Lubchenco:

Huge increases in invasive species nationally and globally. Ballast water big contributer. Need research on things like how to treat ballast water, mid-ocean ballast exchange. But challenging. Safety issues involved. Need to work on how to prevent establishment of species. Both research issue and policy issue – need to decide how important.

Vitter (R-Oldest Profession)

In 1971, you predicted that some form of ecological catastrophe was almost certain to overtake us by end of century. Was that smart?

Holdren:

For crying out loud, I was 26. I hedged by saying “almost”. And policies changed, which was really, really good.

Vitter:

Do you still think that was a responsible prediction?

Holdren:

Prediction versus possibilities.

Vitter:

What science was that based on?

Holdren:

Accumulations of toxics in fats, atmospheric contaminations, etc.

Vitter:

Has all that reversed?

Holdren:

Some, not all?

Vitter:

You said that 1 billion climate change deaths could happen by 2020. Still stick to that?

holdren:

Could still happen.

Vitter:

In 1973, you encouraged reducing population growth in US to below 0. Stick to that?

Holdren:

You’re a tool, Senator. (OK, he didn’t say it, but he was thinking it.)

Vitter:

You said balancing risks and benefits of population growth is complex and people can disagree. Do you think determining optimal population is an appropriate job of government?

Holdren:

Read what I wrote, dumbass. I didn’t say that was a role for government. I said it’s something that people think about.

Vitter:

In 2006, you suggested that we could see 13 foot increase in sea level by end of century. IPCC said 25 inches. Why discrepency?

Holdren:

IPCC chose not to consider possibility of rapid disintegration of big ice sheets, because models not good enough. I based my statement on peer-reviewed research in Science, Nature, etc, there was 2-5 meters per century increases in past. IPCC didn’t include that estimate.

Vitter:

Which estimate is better?

Holdren:

Since IPCC, estimates of upper limit at 1-2 Meters.

Vitter:

1 Billion Dead still possible?

Holdren:

Yes. And that would be bad, and we should try to keep it from happening.

Cantwell (D-WA):

Can you keep us out of courts on environmental issues?

Lubchenco:

I’ll try to avoid it, but don’t know how possible?

Cantwell:

Impact of hurricane-force winds off coast of Washington, Doppler gap offshore?

Lubchenco:

Will try to solve that, and soon?

Cantwell:

Will you put resources toward Puget Sound recovery plans?

Lubchenco:

Absolutely.

Cantwell:

Southern Orca population – what resources dedicated to delisting?

Lubchenco:

Priority, but don’t know what resources.

Cantwell:

28 years reasonable time?

Lubchenco:

Depends on basis for estimate, and what happens during that time.

Cantwell:

Coast Guard says inadequate resources to respond to Arctic Ocean spills. What do you think?

Holdren:

We’re down to 2 icebreakers, and they’re old. Oil spill response also inadequate. We do need to fix that.

Warner (D-VA):

Creation of Chief Technology Officer, to report to you (Holdren). Is this going to be an internal function, or an outreach officer to spur innovation.

Holdren:

Hard to talk about division of responsibilities with nobody named yet. Position seen mostly as outreach position. Broader than IT, and outward looking.

Warner:

Would IT be Technology Officer or Innovation Officer?

Holdren:

Not yet settled. But will include society as whole, not just government.

Warner:

Hope you’ll look at Virginia as model.

Holdren:

Of course.

Warner:

Dr. Lubchenco – Chesapeake Bay. Do you have a sense of what you might need, beyond funding, to be better partner with states on this?

Lubchenco:

No specific knowledge about relevant authority. Think Bay brings challenges involved in managing activities that cross land, estuary, localities, states, different federal agencies to fore. Adequate funding is a challenge. Bay is microcosm of many other ocean issues in this regard, and we need to work hard at figuring out mechanisms to better integrate all of this.

Rockefeller:

Dr. Holdren: This isn’t your job, but I’m going to make it part of your job. Our air traffic control system is an antique disaster that causes massive delays. Mongolia is doing a better job than we are. You’ve got face to face contact with The Boss. We need money to fix the problem. Help.

Holdren:

It really is my job. Where Sci/Tech are not being put to appropriate use, I need to look for gaps and fill holes. This is a big gap. It’s on the radar screen (pun his and intended).

Rockefeller:

Dr. Lubchenco: Weather Service provides weather to FAA. There are 21 traffic control centers, but there’s resistance to reducing that number. Will you help try to resolve this? Bring together parties?

Lubchenco:

Knows the right answer is yes.

Begich (again):

Arctic policy: Arctic research & policy committee has specific responsibilities outlined under law, but agencies involved have never managed to get together combined budget and effort?

Holdren:

That’s easy. Yes. Will work with OMB to get this done.

Begich:

Arctic policy will be huge. How/who do you see involved? Would like to see chart of some sort. Even if it’s ugly. Will you provide me with one?

Cantwell:

How do you intend to make sure that agencies have adequate say in policies such as offshore drilling. (Begich sits back down real fast.) Adequate protection advice was ignored by Minerals Management Service. How do you intend to be heard.

Lubchenco:

This highlights challenge of different agencies with similar responsibilities. Overlap does not serve us well, and needs to be fixed. Need to do more holistic planning.

Cantwell:

Minerals Management blew you guys off. How do you keep that from happening again?

Lubchenco:

Will make that problem of guy sitting next to me.

Holdren:

Office of Science and Technology Council – in White House, involving sub-Secretary type people. Languished over last 8 years. Will bring this back and use it fully to reduce the problems.

Cantwell:

Office of Response and Reconstruction for Oil Spills hasn’t been funded well. What do you think?

Both:

Unacceptable, needs to be fixed.

Rockefeller:

Concludes. (After Dr. Holdren belatedly remembers to thank wife and friends for coming)

Thanks both nominees for what they’re giving up to come and work in government service and on behalf of the whole planet.

Hearing Adjourned.

I’ll have some wrap-up comments in a little bit, in a separate post.

Comments

  1. #1 ScottN
    February 12, 2009

    Re:

    Vitter (R-Oldest Profession)

    and

    Begich (D-AK-not felon)

    Pity those won’t actually appear on C-SPAN.

  2. #2 BB
    February 13, 2009

    CORRECTION:

    Cantwell:

    NOAA Office of Response and RESTORATION (not “reconstruction”) for Oil Spills hasn’t been funded well. What do you think?

    Both:

    Unacceptable, needs to be fixed

  3. #3 SN
    February 13, 2009

    Office of Response and Restoration is not merely underfunded. It is systematically being dismembered. 100’s of years of expertise is being cast to the winds, to the obvious detriment of the program and its ability to protect natural resources on behalf of the American public!

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