The first green Secretary of Commerce

Bill RichardsonBarack Obama has chosen cleantech and climate superstar Bill Richardson to be his Secretary of Commerce. That means “the voice of business in government” will be, for the first time in U.S. history, someone who is a champion of clean energy.

As a bonus, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be overseen by a champion of climate science. I briefly worked with Richardson at the department and can certainly attest that he gets it. Grist has his green credentials here.

I trust all those journalists and bloggers who wasted devoted time dissing the appointment of Gen. James Jones as National Security Advisor — even though NSA plays no significant role whatsoever in domestic energy or climate policy (see “Stuff I learned at DOE, Part 1: SOS trumps NSA (Hillary Clinton trumps Gen. Jones)” — will devote equal time to praising the appointment of Richardson to a post that is far more crucial to advocates of climate action.

Indeed, Richardson’s appointment is doubly important because it means a Cabinet position that is typically filled by Chamber of Commerce type (i.e. a naysayer on serious energy and climate action) is instead held by an advocate for real change. It is yet another clear sign that Obama meant it when he said, “The science is beyond dispute… Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.”

Greenwire has more details:

President-elect Barack Obama named New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) today as his pick to lead the Commerce Department — highlighting his vision for the agency to take a lead on “clean energy” and climate change.

If confirmed by the Senate, Richardson will lead a sprawling agency with a diverse domain — including not only economic development but also oceans, fisheries and climate change. More than 60 percent of the Commerce Department’s budget goes to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

At a press conference this morning announcing the pick, neither Obama nor Richardson mentioned the Commerce Department’s role in oceans and fisheries. Obama said the “core mission” for Richardson will be to revive the U.S. economy and called him “uniquely situated” to serve as an “economic diplomat.” Obama placed clean-technology jobs at the center of that vision for the agency, tasking Richardson to “build a new clean energy industry and create the green jobs of the 21st century.”

Richardson said that the themes of the campaign — including green jobs, climate change and research — would be a focus for the Commerce Department.

Environmental groups welcomed the nomination and said they hope Richardson exerts NOAA’s role in any climate change proposals from the administration and includes a focus on ocean and fishery conservation in economic development.

“We hope Governor Richardson ensures any comprehensive climate change proposal from the administration takes into account the effects on oceans,” said Beth Lowell, federal policy director at Oceana.

The oceans have absorbed about a third of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions, resulting in water that is 30 percent more acidic than it was before the Industrial Revolution. The acidic water can dissolve the hard shells of shellfish, corals and marine animals. NOAA also plays a key role in climate oversight, overseeing research and data collection key to monitoring climate change.

“Governor Richardson was chosen to focus on jobs and getting the economy on track; that focus on livelihoods is needed in oceans and fisheries, too,” said Amanda Leland, policy director for the oceans program at the Environmental Defense Fund. “Thousands of jobs have been lost already, and he will have a leadership opportunity to reverse that.”

Obama broke with tradition in naming a governor to the Commerce secretary post, which previously has gone to business executives. Current Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez was the CEO of Kellogg Co. Preceding him was Don Evans, an oil executive who contributed to Bush’s election campaign.

A former NOAA official in the Bush administration said there is a “historic disconnect” between NOAA and the rest of the Commerce Department, and there is always a learning curve for the new Commerce chief in his role over oceans, fisheries, satellites and research. But Richardson’s role as governor may give him a head start, the official said, since he has experience dealing with the administration, Congress and diverse priorities.

Richardson will also oversee appointments to key political positions, including leaders for NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Those appointees will inherit the implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act mandate to end overfishing, along with increasing budget demands for new satellite systems. Aimed at providing science agencies and the military with climate and weather data, the satellites have saddled the agency with ballooning budget requirements and the need for massive restructuring.

Satellite and climate change issues will be some of the most crucial issues facing the new administration. Fisheries and marine conservation is a major focus for NOAA, but about 70 percent of the agency’s budget goes to science and technology.

8 Responses to The first green Secretary of Commerce

  1. Someone needs to tell the mainstream media what good news this is. Even fairly liberal MSNBC talking heads were downplaying Richardson’s nomination, saying it might be a disappointment for Richardson, since Secretary of Commerce wasn’t such a big deal post. They were suggesting he might be miffed for not getting the Secretary of State position. This is even better, in my opinion.
    This is very encouraging, thanks for letting us know about it’s significance. I wasn’t even aware that NOAA was part of the Commerce dept.
    I look forward to new Dept. of Interior and EPA appointments as well.

  2. paulm says:

    BMW launches electric version of British classic
    • 95mph model can travel 150 miles on full charge

    I want one!

  3. red says:

    “Aimed at providing science agencies and the military with climate and weather data, the satellites have saddled the agency with ballooning budget requirements and the need for massive restructuring.”

    The NOAA satellite program that’s shared between the military and NOAA is called NPOESS. It’s the next generation series of big polar-orbiting operational weather/environment satellites. As with many such big, complicated satellite systems, it’s billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. Environment monitoring sensors have been pulled off in order to try to get some kind of control over the system.

    In New Mexico, Richardson promoted Spaceport America, a new spaceport with commercial operations in mind. This fits with the “commerce” side of the Commerce house. The spaceport would typically involve suborbital launches or quite small orbital launches. In either case, the commercial, entrepreneurial mindset of the businesses, combined with the more manageable size and frequent repetition of their projects (deploy, deploy, deploy…), lends hope that, if their businesses take off, they’ll be able to offer space services that can avoid or minimize the types of schedule and cost overruns that afflict many bigger, cost-plus aerospace government contracts.

    Will Richardson connect these dots in a way that’s relevant to NOAA climate monitoring and science? Here’s a small example of the types of opportunity that might become available:

    Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico is a leader in “Operationally Responsive Space”, a movement Obama endorsed in his space policy document towards typically smaller and less capable, but cheaper and quickly launched satellites. I’m not sure how involved or aware Richardson has been with this effort, but it’s also relevant to NOAA’s situation.

    The big missions will surely continue to have an important role in NOAA’s climate efforts. Still, it would be nice if we could relieve the pressure on these big missions by offloading or complementing some of the responsibility as appropriate to smaller, more manageable orbital launchers, reusable suborbital rockets, and innovative smallsat platforms.

    Here’s more. It doesn’t go into the climate monitoring implications, but you can probably fill those in.

  4. Schultz says:

    What did Richardson achieve when he was our Energy Secretary under President Clinton? Also, how green is the state of New Mexico? When I hear of big solar power deals they are always in Nevada, Southern California, or Arizona. I’m just asking because the title of this post was “The first Green Secretary of Commerce” and I would like to see more than just rhetoric to back that up.

  5. Schultz says:

    Exactly. I recall Richardson getting a debate question during the Democratic Primary, something along the lines of “You were energy secretary and had a chance to put us on track to be energy independent, and you were not able to do so….why?” Richardson did not give a good explanation as to why he failed to change our energy policy when he had the opportunity to do just that.