Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), President Barack Obama’s pick to be Secretary of Commerce, is a hard-core conservative. He supports drilling in the Arctic Refuge, opposes the United Nations, and is staunchly against abortion rights. In 1995, he even voted to abolish the Department of Commerce. However, he has a long record of championing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the largest agency in the department. NOAA “accounts for 60 percent of the department’s budget and one-third of its staff,” with a complex mission of everything from “daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce.” In 2006, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation honored Gregg with their annual leadership award:
Throughout his career in the United States Senate, Senator Gregg has been a strong advocate for ocean issues. He has been a champion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), routinely fighting on the agency’s behalf for more funding and greater priority. When Senator Gregg served as Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee from the fall 1995 to early 2005, NOAA funding rose from $1.86 billion to $3.94 billion. In addition, the National Marine Sanctuary Program budget grew from $12 million to $66 million under his watch.
Gregg’s work includes cosponsoring the Fritz Hollings National Ocean Policy and Leadership Act, Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Act, Tsunami Preparedness Act, and the Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act. Gregg’s statement in accepting the award, we hope, will guide his leadership of the Commerce Department:
We now have a network of underwater National Parks in this country called ‘marine sanctuaries’ and a network of estuarine reserves where rivers meet the sea. I have long made preserving and protecting the environment a top priority, and one that I continue to work on here in the Senate. There is so much left to be discovered in the vast waters around the Earth, and ocean exploration and education should be a key component of our national science policy. I am honored to be receiving this award and want to, in turn, recognize the many scientists and explorers who are developing exciting new findings every day.
Gregg’s record on “preserving and protecting the environment” since joining the Senate in 1992 is not quite as strong as he might claim, as reflected in his 38% lifetime League of Conservation Voters rating. And a lot of his support for ocean science has come in the form of earmarks for the University of New Hampshire. However, Gregg has long recognized the threat of global warming, breaking ranks in 2003 as one of six Republican senators to vote for the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act.
All things considered, Gregg has demonstrated that it’s possible to be a conservative and respect science. As long as he heeds the knowledge of NOAA Director Jane Lubchenco, a world-renowned marine biologist and leading climate scientist, respects the career professionals of the agency, and doesn’t try again to eliminate his own department, Gregg can prove to be an inspired choice as Secretary of Commerce.