Report from the Hill

Sun’s barely up when I sip a quick coffee, slip into something a bit more uncomfortable and put up my hair, all to look as much as possible like a serious scientist. After all, I’m getting ready to attend a hearing on the CLEAR act called by the House committee on natural resources with Ken Salazar as first witness and who knows, he might look my way.

This could be interesting. It’s Ken’s first appearance in the committee as secretary of the Department of the Interior, and my guess is that the committee members will all show up and use their five minutes of questioning to get on their own soapboxes. An excellent way to understand what the main passions and frustrations are.

So, in the metro just after 6am to make sure I will through the doors that open at 9:45am. Am slightly disappointed that I’m not actually the first in line: Julie is there before me with chair, book and coffee patiently waiting near the doors on the 3rd floor of the Rayburn building. She is a professional linestander. Her customer will show up at 9:30. Gradually more line standers trickle in. Retired couple Amira and Noel, rehabilitating drug addicts Joe and Tim, homeless Fred, one happy family. They get 35 dollars/hour. Three+ hours of standing in line later I reckon that 105 bucks would have been worth it. But, heck, I get in and take a seat right behind Jane Lubchenko, the new director of NOAA.

I’m not disappointed: the hearing is a spectacle. The committee chair reminds all witnesses that their testimony will be strictly limited to 5 minutes after which Ken takes the stage and talks for 21. Not about the CLEAR act, but about the troubles and tribulations of DoI, underfunded for many years, undermined by sex and drugs scandals in the MMS (but they now have a new code of conduct and so the miners will behave themselves in the future!) and by other departments nibbling at its authority.
But Ken and his team will change it all and revive DoI.

Very little is asked in the next two hours about the CLEAR act, but I understand that the California house committee members are mostly concerned about water issues (what is DoI going to do about that), the Utah members are severely ticked off that gas and oil leases granted in the last year or two were rescinded, several committee members are really happy to see Wilma Lewis as new assistant secretary and take their five minutes to say just that, and a Colorado representative is furious with Ken and his staff for now answering his repeated questions in the last few months.

When Jane Lubchenko comes on, the topic returns to the CLEAR act. Should the government allow some exploration and perhaps production in the next 5 years in the OCS? Well, we should first decide, says Jane rightfully, who’s actually in charge when it comes to deciding what to allow or not allow in marine areas. NOAA should be, and so the CLEAR act is rather premature. We cannot just go ahead and make a hasty and relatively ad-hoc decision without NOAA’s explicit involvement, she states. Right on. Studies first with a strong focus on the big picture. Goodness, she sounds like a true scientist. Wait a minute, she is. And all of a sudden I feel at home.


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