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Obama Science Nominees Warmly Welcomed on Hill

By Juliet Eilperin
While President Obama reopens the search for a Commerce secretary in the wake Sen. Judd Gregg's (R-N.H.) decision to withdraw his name from consideration, two of his top scientific nominees received a largely warm welcome from members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today, who said they expected the two of them to maintain the government's scientific integrity while also addressing real-world concerns about climate change, space exploration and fishery management.

Both Harvard University physicist John Holdren -- who is slated to head the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy -- and Oregon State University marine biologist Jane Lubchenco, who is in line to serve as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator, told the panel they would emphasize the importance of independent research as they helped policymakers grapple with the nation's pressing scientific problems.

After the panel's chairman, John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WVa.) asked them how they protect the integrity of science -- "How do you protect that when you're being buffeted by a variety of other interests within the government?" -- Lubchenco replied that such inquiry was important, but not the only factor in federal policy decisions.

"I believe very strongly that the role of science is to inform our understanding and inform our decisions," she said. "The science doesn't tell us what to do. The choices you make are often social decisions that should be informed by science."

Despite the current economic crunch, both Holdren and Lubchenco indicated they would seek to expand their operations in order to meet the country's scientific needs. Holdren said he planned to resurrect the White House National Space Council -- a comment that pleased committee member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) -- and said he would explore how the U.S. could continue to have a presence in space beyond its currently-planned missions.

"There's no question the gap in our ability to put people in space is a matter of great concern," Holdren said. "We're committed to figuring that problem out, because it's a major priority."

Lubchenco, for her part, said she would work to create a National Climate Service that would both analyze global warming data and make such information available to the public as well as to elected decision makers.

While the hearing began on a collegial note -- Rockefeller assured committee members, "Both Senator Hutchison and I have read the FBI reports on these two distinguished folks, and that was the easiest reading I've ever been through," -- Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) lit into Holdren once got his chance to ask questions.

Referring to comments the scientist had made decades ago, Vitter questioned why Holdren had co-authored a paper in 1971 with Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich in Global Ecology suggesting "some form of ecocatastrophe, if not thermonuclear war, seems almost certain to overtake us before the end of the century."

"Do you think that was a responsible prediction?" Vitter queried.

Holdren tried to answer with a bit of humor, responding, "That was a statement that, even at the age of twenty-six, I had the good sense to hedge by saying 'almost certain.'"

While some members of the audience laughed, Vitter -- who has yet to decide how he will vote on Holdren and Lubchenco's nominations -- was not amused.

Vitter also questioned why Holdren predicted in 1986 that global warming "would cause the deaths of one billion people by 2020."

"I don't think it's likely," replied the man Obama has chosen to serve as his top scientific adviser. "It could happen."

Other senators were kinder to the two nominees. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga,) said he had already decided to go scuba diving with Lubchenco, while Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) offered to host the pair if they journeyed to the Florida Keys for their underwater jaunt.

Even Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) tried to get in on the act, though she acknowledged she had a hard sell. "I could only invite you to go scuba diving in Lake Superior," she said, noting it lacked the same allure as the Keys, "being rather chilly."

Posted at 7:55 PM ET on Feb 12, 2009  | Category:  Cast of Characters
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Posted by: rooster54 | February 13, 2009 5:10 PM

Vitters was one of two senators who voted against Hillary Clinton for SecState. I imagine he hopes that being a really tough Republican will make everyone forget his stimulus package for prostitutes.

Posted by: silverspring25 | February 13, 2009 11:05 AM

ATTENTION DR. HOLDREN

cc: AG HOLDER; DHS SEC. NAPOLITANO; DEFENSE SEC. GATES; TREASURY SEC. GEITHNER; DNI BLAIR; CIA DIR. PANETTA; FBI DIR. MUELLER


RE: BUSH JUSTICE DEPARTMENT APPROVAL OF RADIATION WEAPONS TORTURE OF U.S. CITIZENS BY ONGOING 'EXTRAJUDICIAL PUNISHMENT NETWORK'

... coordinated multi-agency action "programs of personal destruction" manned by security/intel/revenue agents, local police nationwide, citizen vigilantes fronted by government-funded community policing and anti-terrorism programs.

IT IS DAY 25 OF THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION.

DO YOU *REALLY* KNOW WHAT YOUR "MULTI-AGENCY ACTION CENTER" IS UP TO?

http://www.nowpublic.com/world/gestapo-usa-govt-funded-vigilante-network-targets-terrorizes-u-s-citizens

http://my.nowpublic.com/world/domestic-torture-radiation-weaponry-americas-horrific-shame

OR (IF LINKS ARE CORRUPTED/DISABLED):

http://My.NowPublic.com/scrivener

Posted by: scrivener50 | February 13, 2009 10:36 AM

Allow me to add -

For the benefit of those who wish to quibble about cause - and this is Brian Fagans' point - the reality is that we KNOW that the climate DOES change.

REGARDLESS OF THE REASON.

It's up to us to deal with reality.

Please link to: http://www.brianfagan.com/

Posted by: JohnQuimby | February 13, 2009 1:59 AM

I'am just here to let everone know thats at home, that I miss you all, but anyway. I'am in Utah and its like a diff. planet here, everyone here seems to think that everything Mr. Obama dose is odd, and porkish. People judge so much on something that has not even been in affect yet to be am affect its killing me. If you think back, we at times wore not even in the picture to talk about what about to happen to all of our future, in other words, the gov. use to do and pass things that we as the people didn't even know being thought of. Now we get a gov. that lets us kind of run our own country and the old dogs or what ever cant see past there dying trees. I know it has nothing to do with this post but I miss home and just hope that when I get there nothing has changed from our change but the negitive. Utah is a trip and .......

Posted by: hemidave | February 13, 2009 12:46 AM

The WaPo said:

"While the hearing began on a collegial note -- Rockefeller assured committee members, "Both Senator Hutchison and I have read the FBI reports on these two distinguished folks, and that was the easiest reading I've ever been through," -- Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) lit into Holdren once got his chance to ask questions.

Referring to comments the scientist had made decades ago, Vitter questioned why Holdren had co-authored a paper in 1971 with Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich in Global Ecology suggesting "some form of ecocatastrophe, if not thermonuclear war, seems almost certain to overtake us before the end of the century."

"Do you think that was a responsible prediction?" Vitter queried."

Wow - where to begin.

Since Sen. Vitter didn't notice I'll just have to point out that the eco-cotastrophe is already in progress in his state.

So whether we die in 50 or 150 years from her prediction is hardly relevant.

You can argue climate change science till you turn blue. Because you probably will when you drown from climate change related weather.

This dimwit is calling out a scientist on the timing of her prediction - as if that were proof on a 4 billion year old planet.

Everyone in favor of paying to rebuild Sen. Vitter's state after it was wiped out by a global warming phenomenon raise your hand.

Posted by: JohnQuimby | February 13, 2009 12:12 AM

Hmm, I wonder if anyone could come up with an embarrassing question to direct to Vitter?

Posted by: nodebris | February 13, 2009 12:08 AM

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