Federal Environment & Energy Line-Up for 2009 (Part 2)

December 24, 2008

Continued from Part 1.

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PRESIDENTIAL SCIENCE ADVISOR: JOHN HOLDREN

In a Dec. 19 AP story, SEJer Seth Borenstein characterized John Holdren as: "a noted Harvard physicist who went from battling the spread of nuclear weapons to tackling the threat of global warming. He won a 'genius' grant from the MacArthur Foundation. Some colleagues call Holdren one of the smartest people in the world. ...As Obama's top science adviser, Holdren would manage about 40 Ph.D.-level experts who help shape and communicate science and technology policy."

Holdren's CV.

Holdren was a noted critic of Bush administration science and environmental policy. Before the election, in an essay for the October 2008 Scientific American, Holdren wrote that "the ongoing disruption of the earth's climate by man-made greenhouse gases is already well beyond dangerous and is careening toward completely unmanageable. ...The Bush administration has wasted the last eight years. ...It should have been taking decisive action but engaged instead in systematic understatement of the danger."

Climate change skeptics are strongly critical of Holdren's appointment. Borenstein quotes Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, as saying that Holdren would be one of Obama's "worst choices yet." Ebell is not a scientist; CEI historically has received heavy financial support from sources tied to the fossil fuel industry. CEI criticism of Holdren and new NOAA head Jane Lubchenco.

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NOAA ADMINISTRATOR: JANE LUBCHENCO

While climate change will probably be the top of NOAA's agenda, this marine biologist from Oregon State will head the same agency she has sharply criticized for allowing overfishing. Huffington Post notes that NOAA must approve fishery management plans from organizations such as the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Lubchenco bio.

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NIEHS DIRECTOR: LINDA BIRNBAUM

The director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at NIH is also the de facto head of the National Toxicology Program. Most recently, Birnbaum was a senior adviser with EPA. She spent 16 years as director of EPA's Experimental Toxicology Division and was president of the Society of Toxicology in 2004-05. Before that, she also worked at NIEHS for a decade.

Veteran Science News reporter Janet Raloff wrote about Birnbaum's appointment: "As a reporter who has worked with Birnbaum for probably 20 years, I've found her singularly articulate in explaining the often arcane effects and mechanisms by which many environmental agents cause harm. A straight shooter, she won't hazard wild guesses about implications of her data, but she will offer informed speculation. The kind of comments, for instance, she'd share with colleagues at a research conference."

"She doesn't look for attention or grandstand, but she will speak up repeatedly to keep colleagues grounded on what the data that they're considering show — or don't show. She also points out what kinds of studies would be required to fill in all those niggling data gaps. These would be the investigations needed to understand whether the chemicals we encounter in the home, workplace and environment are likely to be benign or not — at the doses to which we may be exposed."

The Effect Measure blog offers this context on what Birnbaum's walking into: "The controversial regime of former Director David Schwartz, who left under a cloud of alleged conflicts of interest and mismanagement. For the last year NIEHS has been under very capable and stabilizing direction of an Acting Director, Sam Wilson, but there were limits on what could be done by a Director and his Deputy who didn't have permanent status."

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