Jane Lubchenco, career environmental activist and author of a cap-and-trade plan for America’s fisheries, is the most controversial director ever to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A marine scientist, Lubchenco co-wrote a 2009 paper titled “Oceans of Abundance,” claiming, “the global oceans are being emptied of seafood. Scientists report that 90 percent of large fish — highly sought after species like tuna and swordfish — have been removed from the oceans.”
Other scientists disputed that claim, but President Obama didn’t nominate them to head NOAA.
She is at the center of a classic Washington Iron Triangle that includes wealthy liberal foundations, radical environmental nonprofits and multiple government officials, many of whom, like Lubchenco, came out of the foundations or activist groups.
Lubchenco has done so much to kill the New England fishing industry that 300 angry Gloucester, Mass., citizens protested outside the regional office of the federal fisheries service last October.
They didn’t hang Lubchenco in effigy. Instead, they mounted an ugly mannequin representing her, looming over a gallows where she was the one hanging two fishermen in effigy. The signs pinned to their heavy weather gear read, “Betrayed by government.”
In New England alone, the commercial fishing industry includes more than 35,000 fishermen and boat operators, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. New Bedford, Mass., is the most active of 88 ports listed by NOAA as part of the industry, which caught an estimated $2.9 billion worth of fish in 2009.
In July, two Massachusetts Democratic congressmen, Barney Frank and John Tierney, called for Lubchenco to resign or be fired, not only for her treacherous hostility toward the American fishing industry, but also for harboring a culture of corrupt law enforcement agents that treated fishermen as criminals and systematically sped the culling of the fleet.
The lawmakers were furious at what Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser revealed in a July 1 memo to Lubchenco — a $96 million “Asset Forfeiture Fund,” an account NOAA officers built from enormous fishing fines far out of proportion to the violations.
The fund was being handled like a slush fund to buy 202 vehicles for 172 officers, a $300,000 luxury “undercover” yacht (Lubchenco may not have known about this purchase), and a $109,000 trip to Norway for 15 agents to attend the weeklong Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop, among 83 pages of other irregularities.
Anger against Lubchenco isn’t limited to New England. Fishing fleets operating in Virginia, along the Gulf coast, and in California and Alaska are also being bled despite her Senate confirmation hearing pledge to create “a new climate of trust” in what senators called the “seriously dysfunctional relationship” that had poisoned relations between fishing regulators and fishermen for nearly 10 years.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced his fellow Oregonian (professor of marine biology, Oregon State University) as the “Bionic Woman of Good Science” with many awards — a $500,000 MacArthur “genius grant,” a $150,000 Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation, and a year as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
She sailed through confirmation, then headed straight to New England and demanded that the local fisheries authority write a plan imposing her new untried program on their fleet.
Lubchenco first came to Washington in 1997 as a board member of the Environmental Defense Fund (2008 income: $112 million), which has been the vanguard for a radical restructuring of the fishing industry, converting the ocean commons into commodities that EDF named “catch shares.”
That’s not “shares” as in splitting up the catch equitably, it’s “shares” as in paper permits for a preset catch, doled out to fishermen by the government in dribbles designed, according to Lubchenco, to remove “a significant fraction” of the industry’s operators.
A fisherman could sell or rent his shares to somebody seeking a bigger catch, but every geographical area and species has a government-mandated cap called a Total Allowable Catch that can’t be exceeded. Each catch share is a percentage of the Total Allowable Catch.
If a fishing boat captain doesn’t get enough shares to survive, he learns the hard way what a Gloucester reporter heard when Lubchenco was asked to define catch shares: “A negotiable stock that fishermen can sell as they go out of business, allowing them to exit with some cash.”
During the 2009 Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, EDF Vice President David Festa projected a 400 percent return on investment for catch shares. The institute is “junk-bond king” Michael Milken’s think tank that now directs private capital into investments “that serve the public interest.”
But nobody at the conference said anything about big environmental groups buying up shares or driving prices to disastrous levels. Or that catch shares inevitably meant ending a centuries-long American tradition of small-scale operations, leaving fishing communities as graveyards for rotting fishing boats. Milken thus has gone from junk bonds to junk fleets.
Rich foundations have funded the EDF/Lubchenco obsession with government control of the American fishing fleet. The Moore Foundation, based on founder Gordon Moore’s Intel profits, gave EDF $3.5 million from 2005 to 2008 to support catch shares, while the Packard Foundation gave EDF $2.2 million for its Oceans Program between 2002 and 2006. The Pew Charitable Trusts operates its own oceans program.
The Packard Foundation gave $2.1 million for Lubchenco’s Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, which she started in 1997. She says scientists must lead politicians and the public to create a world that is “ecologically sound, economically feasible and socially just.”
Her ALLP trains selected scientists to use talking points with reporters. Following lessons on public relations techniques of role-playing and critique sessions, trainees practice speaking in crisp sound bites. Among the trainers for ALLP are journalists working for the New York Times, Washington Post and National Public Radio, along with White House and congressional staff members.
As NOAA director, however, Lubchenco tells scientists what to say and how to say it via government memos. She knows Obama has her back because he said no when Frank and Tierney demanded her removal.
Her personal staff consists largely of fellow environmentalists. Senior Adviser Monica Medina from the Pew Charitable Trusts headed the Obama NOAA transition team and recommended Lubchenco for director. Medina’s husband is Ron Klain, Vice President Biden’s chief of staff.
Lubchenco’s chief of staff, Margaret Spring, came from the Nature Conservancy, and her communications director, Justin Kenney, from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Her confidential adviser is Amrit Mehra, who worked for Obama in the Senate.
That’s entrenched power.
Ron Arnold is vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, and author of “Freezing in the Dark: Money, Power, Politics and the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy.”