It was pretty much smooth sailing, with questions about climate change, climate science, and scientific integrity at the February 12 Senate confirmation hearing for John Holdren, director-designate of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Jane Lubchenco, administrator-designate of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on February 12 to hear testimony from and question Dr. Jane Lubchenco, nominated to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere at the U.S. Department of Commerce—also known as the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—and Dr. John Holdren, nominated to be Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the Executive Office of the President.
See archived webcast and written opening statements.
A few excerpts from written opening statements
Said climate change is “the most demanding of all environmental challenges in terms of what will be required of science and technology in order to bring it under control.”
“Another aspect of OSTP’s responsibilities in the global arena relates to international research partnerships in science and in the technologies needed to address challenges that can only be surmounted by multilateral collaborations, such as climate change, oil-import vulnerabilities, and the condition of the world’s oceans….I have been involved in international cooperation on fusion and other energy technologies since 1971, and if confirmed by the Senate I will be most eager to put the insights derived from that experience to good use in OSTP.”
“Now our country must rise to a new challenge—dealing with the impacts of the changing climate. In my work on the Ocean Commissions, I heard firsthand from businesses and state and local governments about the need for better information and predictions about the impacts of climate change in communities all across this country. From concern about droughts and sea level rise to changes in the chemistry of the ocean, there is a real hunger for more and better information. If confirmed, I will work to create a National Climate Service, which would be similar to the National Weather Service, within NOAA. NOAA is the best agency in the government to synthesize the scientific data on climate change and create products and services that can be used by the public to guide important decisions such as where to build a road or wind turbines. This idea has been studied by the agency, the National Academy of Sciences, and by members of this Committee. It is an idea whose time has come, and I would like to make it happen.”
Select highlights from Q&A
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), the Committee Chair, began with a question about the importance of ensuring the integrity of science. Holdren gave a good response (at 56:15 in the webcast) and quoted the provision in the America Competes Act that requires the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop principles to ensure integrity in the communication of scientific information. (See our February 13, 2008 post on the failure of Holdren’s predecessor at OSTP, John Marburger, to comply with this statutory requirement.
Holdren said (at about 70:45) that research on many aspects of weather and climate change needs to be expanded. Then he spoke specifically about the US Global Change Research Program, the multiagency scientific program charged by law with coordinating federal research and providing periodic scientific assessments. (This program was renamed the Climate Change Science Program in a Bush-era rebranding exercise.) Holdren said the Global Change Research Act of 1990 is in need of “updating and expansion” by the Congress and that he “very much wanted to work” with Congress to do that. (We agree. We believe there is an excellent opportunity now for the Obama administration and Congress to work together to reform and strengthen this program, which has been undermined in key respects during the past eight years and needs to be reformed and redirected in order to make its best contribution to society.)
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who will chair the committee’s Science and Space Subcommittee during this Congress, asked Dr. Lubchenco a question about how the prospective National Climate Service – which she had referred to as a “National Climate Service within NOAA” – would interact with NASA’s large Earth Science program. (NASA’s space-based global Earth-observing satellite system and its associated data management and scientific research activities are the biggest-ticket item in the US Global Change Research Program.) Lubchenco replied that the National Climate Service “will be a collaboration across agencies.” She said NOAA “has the experience to connect data with forecasting,” and that the concept is to build on the model of NOAA’s National Weather Service while working in a collegial fashion across agencies. (We believe there is the potential for much good in a National Climate Service, but we have a number of questions and concerns, which are reflected in our proposed questions for Dr. Lubchenco – which for the most part still remain to be answered.)
At 102:00, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) asked Holdren what he would advise about targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Holdren reiterated President Obama’s 2050 target of reducing US emissions by about 80%. He did not mention a 2020 target. Holdren also emphasized the importance of participation by India, China, and other major developing countries. He said that he and the President were optimistic about that, in part because “the major developing country emitters like China and India have recognized that climate change is already harming them and it can’t be fixed without them….So I see a process of engagement…” He added: “It is going to be a long slog. I don’t want to kid anybody. This is going to be tough to fashion the policies that will get us and the rest of the world to where we should want to be in order to minimize the risks of climate change of a magnitude that we would have difficulty dealing with.”
As the 11th and last senator to ask questions (at 116:05), with Chairman Rockefeller just about the only senator left on the dais with him, the other senators having moved on, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) questioned Holdren using a selection of a handful of statements Holdren has made on climate and other environmentally related issues over the last 35 years, challenging Holdren on each one. Vitter was the only senator who struck an oppositional pose at the hearing. Holdren answered each of the questions, some by clarifying issues for Vitter, some by clarifying or modulating his earlier statements (some of which dated back to the 1970s), and some by indicating that, over the years, he has come to change his views as his understanding of various issues has developed. Some of Vitter’s questions seemed to come straight out of a selective quotation effort that has been spun up by some elements within the global warming disinformation campaign in an effort to undermine Holdren’s credibility. None of Vitter’s particular form of political theater was adopted by his colleagues on the committee, including the Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), Snowe, Johnny Isakson (GA), and Mel Martinez (FL). Vitter himself didn’t do much more than read from his questions. So it appears that the anti-Holdren view was essentially marginalized at the hearing, while other members of the committee interacted with Holdren and Lubchenco as leaders who represent views that are generally shared within the mainstream scientific community.
At the end of the hearing, Rockefeller said the committee would send the nominations directly to the floor in an effort to expedite getting these two designees into their new offices.