The Beacon

Obama and the Oceans

In its feature “http://grist.org/feature/2008/10/29/index.html
">Stocking the Cabinet,” Grist speculated on Barack Obama’s potential nominees for the “top environmental jobs” in his administration.

For the oceans, however, the most pertinent post isn’t the head of the EPA, or the secretary of agriculture, energy or interior, all of which were included in Grist’s guessing game. Guess what is?

Hint: The position is currently filled by a man who made his fortune selling Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes.

Give up? It’s the Secretary of Commerce, a post now held by Carlos Gutierrez, late of Kellogg. His background as a business executive may have led Gutierrez to believe that being Secretary of Commerce was about, you know, commerce.

Surprise: the Department of Commerce’s top duty is running U.S. fisheries. NOAA accounts for 60 percent of the department’s budget and one-third of its staff. And it’s NOAA that oversees all fishing within 200 nautical miles of our coastline.

Nothing in Secretary Gutierrez’s resume suggested he was eminently qualified to steward our oceans. (And the very fact that fisheries are grouped under Commerce is a strong indicator of how we view them – as businesses rather than ecosystems.)

So how’d he go from green-lighting new cereal flavors to deciding the fates of our groupers, codfish and tunas, as well as the sharks, dolphins and sea turtles accidentally killed by fishing gear? By being a prominent businessperson and donor.

Not surpringly, Gutierrez has shown little interest in marine conservation during his tenure, somehow failing to find the time even to meet with conservation groups. Lately he has pushed to open industrial fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico even though Congress hasn’t yet approved any offshore aquaculture in U.S. waters.

Fortunately for wild fish populations, the vote on the Gulf of Mexico fish farms has been delayed until January, when we’ll have a new Secretary of Commerce.

So who will it be?

Gutierrez’s predecessor, Donald Evans, was George W. Bush’s national finance chair during the 2000 campaign (and equally mismatched to a job overseeing fishing). I have my doubts that President-elect Barack Obama will break from the tradition of granting Commerce to a loyal, financially-minded business person and fundraiser. So here’s my pick: Obama’s campaign finance chair, Penny Pritzker.

Pritzker is an executive at Hyatt and gets name-checked annually on Forbes’ list of wealthiest Americans. She has overseen Obama’s record-shattering fundraising efforts, and certainly has an able financial and business brain.

Would she take to the Secretary’s chair like the proverbial fish to water? I can’t speculate, but one can certainly hope. Conservationists must not overlook this appointment. The health and vitality of the oceans depends upon it.

Most Viewed


Browse by Date