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NOAA’s Possible Move to Interior

May 18, 2012

President Obama has proposed moving NOAA to the Department of the Interior, that it doesn’t make sense to be part of the Department of Commerce. Why was it there to begin with? Here’s an excerpt from a good source:

Commerce secretaries have long bemoaned the presence of NOAA, a scientific and fisheries agency, in a cabinet department devoted to promoting U.S. trade and economic development. But beltway insiders knew why: President Richard Nixon was furious when his interior secretary, the politically volatile Wally Hickel, took aim at the Administration’s Vietnam War policy. So Nixon punished him by not making the newly created NOAA part of the Interior Department, which already housed the U.S. Geological Survey.

Who knows if Congress will approve the move, but Senator Lisa Murkowski just gave a great statement of support:

As a state with tremendous ocean resources, conversations about the future of NOAA demand our full attention, and caution is warranted to ensure the best interests of Alaskans are protected. But after reviewing the president’s plan for NOAA over the past few months, I’ve concluded it makes sense on a number of levels.

From a basic structural perspective, NOAA is increasingly out of place at Commerce — like a fish out of water. Its stated mission is to provide the scientific data necessary to protect lives and property, as well as to conserve and help manage our nation’s fisheries, oceans and coastlines. Now consider the two departments it could be located in. Commerce is primarily focused on the promotion of economic growth and international trade, dealing with patents and other commercial issues. Interior, meanwhile, manages natural resources, public lands, and fish and wildlife. Based on that alone, it’s easy to see why Interior is a more natural fit…

Right now, we know improvements can be made. For example, NOAA and Interior regularly conduct separate environmental reviews of the same projects, adding time to the approval process and crossing purposes. Case in point is NOAA’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Arctic oil and gas development, which contemplates a needlessly restrictive and unrealistic program and is at odds with Interior’s own assessment. Instead of coordination, the current arrangement routinely leads to conflict and confusion — and an uncertain path forward for those who wish to invest in our state.


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