In forty-eight hours, and amidst the largest peacetime deployment of a military force in any nation’s capitol, President Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America. Biden will inherit a civil service bureaucracy that has been deconstructed by the twice-impeached President Trump. To build back a federal government that has been decimated and demoralized, President-Elect Biden has begun rolling out nominees for critical agencies throughout the federal government. And though these appointments have been met will enthusiasm from the environmental and scientific community, a nagging question lingers among America’s Ocean Stakeholders:
Where is the Biden Ocean Team?
The Biden Climate Team is a beacon of hope after four long years of darkness and denial. Congresswoman Deb Haaland’s nomination for Secretary of the Interior is already shaping up to be one of the most consequential in the history of the Department. Environmental justice champion Michael Regan is an inspired choice to head the EPA. This is a team whose expertise reflects the severity and immediacy of the threat that Climate Change poses.
The Biden Science Team is equally impressive. Elevating the Office of Science and Technology Policy to cabinet level will have significant impact on how scientific guidance shapes the incoming President’s daily decision making. I’m particularly excited about the appointment of Dr. Alondra Nelson to Deputy Director for Science and Society at OSTP. And though not included in the Climate or Science Team announcements, the appointment of Samantha Power to lead USAID, which will also be elevated to the National Security Council, will have major influence over international climate and environmental initiatives.
These appointments have also been complemented by an ambitious Day 1 environmental agenda, which includes rejoining the Paris climate accord and canceling the Keystone XL pipeline permit.
Despite numerous high-profile appointments that reflect an administration firmly grounded in science with a deep well of expertise, the oceans have been noticeably absent from the Biden agenda. After a relentless four-year-war on ocean science and policy, the United States needs to build back its ocean services better than ever. After being systematically dismantled following Sharpiegate, and stuffed with climate change deniers, NOAA in particular needs bold, competent leadership that will elevate the administration and repair its reputation.
We have yet to see a high-level NOAA appointment from the Transition Team. No NOAA administrator. No Chief Scientist the now highly politicized role once occupied by Dr. Craig McLean and currently held by disgraced climate denier who was recently stripped of OSTP affiliation for illegally publishing fraudulent data. And while historically, NOAA Administrator isn’t usually a position that new administrations rush to fill–Dr. Jane Lubchenco wasn’t appointed until a year after President Obama (though her appointment was announced in the early days of his administration) took office and under Trump NOAA remained functionally leaderless for the entire four years–among the cabinet-level advisors, among the advisory teams, among the climate and science nominees, there is a disappointing dearth of ocean expertise.
The only current nominee with a broad ocean mandate is Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, of the Calamari Comeback State, who will take the helm of the Department of Commerce and will have ultimate oversight over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Incoming Interior Secretary Haaland will also oversee the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which governs offshore extractive industries like oil and gas, offshore wind, and critical minerals. Dr. Ike Irby, former Senior Policy Advisor to Senator Harris was recently named Policy Advisor in the Office of the Vice President. His is currently the highest-level position announced with explicit ocean expertise.
2020 is tied for the warmest year on record; it was the most active hurricane season in recorded history; it was a year of unprecedented Arctic ice melt; and it was the year many scientists believe we reached a tipping for sea level rise. The Biden Administration will be faced with a staggering array of environmental, energy, and climate issues that touch on every aspect of American life, and all of them, at the core, will be ocean issues. Without bold ocean leadership at the heart of the Biden team, there is little chance of comprehensively tackling the greatest threat facing the planet or building back and futureproofing America’s Blue Economy.
Perhaps this is premature and a Biden Ocean Team is coming. But the big announcements for Climate and Science would be the place for ocean leadership and unless the transition team has bold plans to elevate NOAA to cabinet-level, a Biden Ocean Team at the level of Climate and Science seems unlikely.
Hurricane season is only five months away.
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