Mark Begich

Is it Begich?

An anonymous Senator has put a hold on the nominations of John Holdren to be White House science advisor, and on Jane Lubchenco to head NOAA. The office of the early suspect, NJ Senator Bob Menendez, denied Thursday that he has a hold on the nomination. Nobody now knows who placed the hold, or why.

During the early February nomination hearing before the U. S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, opposition to the nominations appeared to be tepid, with few Republicans even bothering to show up. The only Senator to question either of the nominees twice, was Alaska Democrat Mark Begich, who queried Lubchenco about climate change and fisheries issues in a friendly way.

Soon after the nomination hearing, CQ Politics cited strong support for an immediate voice vote:

The panel approved both nominations by voice vote.

John D. Rockefeller IV , D-W.Va., Commerce chairman, said he and ranking Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas are seeking to have the nominations confirmed on the Senate floor by voice vote as soon as possible.

“Speed is important here,” Rockefeller said.

Then, early last week, the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin noted:

[Sen. Menendez] has placed a "hold" that blocks votes on confirming Harvard University physicist John Holdren, who is in line to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Oregon State University marine biologist Jane Lubchenco, Obama’s nominee to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to sources who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, Menendez is using the holds as leverage to get Senate leaders’ attention for a matter related to Cuba rather than questioning the nominees’ credentials.

But Thursday, people were claiming Menendez had no hold on the nominations. Late Friday, TPM’s Elana Schor wrote:

A source close to the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that there is, right now, no hold from Menendez on the nominees. It remains unclear when the hold evaporated — sometime between the WaPo’s original report on Tuesday and today, it seems. But either way, the nominees would have been quickly cleared if Menendez were the only original objector. So the search goes on.

Earlier Friday, she had written:

The likely source of the culprit would seem to be the Senate Commerce Committee, although that panel approved the nominations last month. "I am unaware of any GOP Commerce Committee members who are raising questions," one Senate source said via email.

But other sources pointed me to Commerce — so just in case, I reached out to all the Republicans on that committee. The next likely source of the slowdown would be GOPers on the Senate environment committee, particularly given Holdren’s progressive views on climate change, but Sen. Jim Inhofe’s (R-OK) office did not return a request for comment on the nominations.

Imhofe, giving scientists a problem? Naaaahh!

And there’s a remote possibility that Sen. Olympia Snowe is involved in the holdup. The Maine Senator has been on the Fisheries subcommittee for over 13 years. She has butted heads with NOAA several times over restrictions to the New England commercial fisheries, as the populations of oceanic fish and shellfish in the Northeast offshore areas plummeted.

Questioning Lubchenco last month, Sen. Snowe complained about the Gloucester regional office of NOAA’s role in the reduction of catch time for the commercial fishing industry:

She said the groundfish industry’s interests in New England had developed a "lack of trust" in the regional office of NMFS, which is headed by Patricia Kurkul. "Rightfully so," Snowe added.

She offered an abbreviated summary of the schism, skipping the repeated recent lectures delivered to NMFS by a federal judge in Boston, who has rolled back the regulatory scheme of 2006 with orders that the agency do better than pay lip service to regulatory options that might provide some relief for the working fleet.

Instead, Snowe focused Lubchenco on NMFS’ march toward the implementation of its Interim Rule to restrict fishing for the coming year — to bar it entirely from the region’s southern waters and severely constrain it elsewhere — in response to discouraging data about the recovery of some stocks in the mix of 19 groundfish species.

The senator seemed exasperated that NMFS "totally dismissed" a 15-1 recommendation from the policy-making and advisory New England Fishery Management Council to regulate more lightly in the coming year; instead, she continued, NMFS’ action would leave federal permit holders with "20 days" to fish — "three weeks to make a living."

The offshore seafood harvesting industry in New England is in serious denial about whether or not Atlantic fish stocks are making sustainable comebacks. Commercial fishery interests and their allies are attempting to erode Lubchenco’s credibility as a scientist by citing her longstanding ties to the Pew Charitable Trust’s Pew Oceans Commission and the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative:

To many in the fishing industry, data that comes financed by the Pew Charitable Trusts is data to be doubted, and in Lubchenco, many in the industry see a proud Pew partisan who is about to take authority over the nation’s fisheries and its remaining fishermen and women.

Lubchenco has been a Pew fellow, a member of the Pew Oceans Commission and the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative that evolved from it. In these endeavors, she was teamed with Leon Panetta, the former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama’s choice to be CIA director.

She also lists herself as a director of the Pew trust-financed SeaWeb, which describes itself as existing to "raise awareness of the world ocean and the life within it," according to Nils E. Stolpe, a columnist for National Fisherman, who has been reporting on the Pew campaign for many years

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The Gloucester Daily Times published an article last week (from which the above Lubchenco-Snowe dialogue quotes have been extracted), by Richard Gaines, that goes into the New England fishing industry’s possible objections to Lubchenco’s NOAA appointment.

If the hold expires – dies a natural death – at the beginning of this coming week, a lot of speculation on Holdren’s and Lubcenco’s appointments will become moot. But if the hold continues or is renewed, people might start asking Snowe’s staff whether or not she’s in on it.

An important meeting of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is coming up at the end of March and beginning of April, concerning the by-catch of King salmon and other fish in the Bering Sea, by American midwater trawlers. It will pit the Seattle-based industrial fishing fleet against the mostly Alaska Native subsistence and commercial users in the Yukon, and Kuskokwim Rivers.

It will be the most extensive, most public revisiting of the by-catch paradigm in years. Not only are a number of Alaska Native groups and associations pushing for a severe reduction in by-catch by the fleet, they are very well organized. Combined with the high profile public awareness of poverty and cultural issues in the Yukon-Kuskokwim River delta this winter, the status of the NOAA director (NOAA oversees the groups responsible for managing the offshore by-catch) may have an important impact on the course of the Anchorage meetings.

Oxdown Diaries

Oxdown Diaries