Commerce Secretary Locke could be good for salmon and whalesFebruary 25th, 2009 by cdunagan
Former Washington governor Gary Locke was nominated this morning to be President Obama’s Secretary of Commerce, a department that oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies integral to environmental issues in the Northwest.
“Gary knows the American Dream. He’s lived it. And that’s why he shares my commitment to do whatever it takes to keep it alive in our time,” Obama said in announcing the nomination. See also a transcript of Obama’s and Locke’s remarks.
I was preparing to write something about Locke’s environmental history in Washington state, then I saw a piece that Howard Garrett of Orca Network had written. So I’ve yielded this space to him, and I would welcome further comments from anyone:
Gov. Locke has been a reliable friend of the Southern Resident orcas.
You may recall that on May 5, 2003, the USS Shoup was training with mid-frequency active sonars in Haro Strait where 23 members of J pod were foraging. The whales were videotaped as they bunched up near the shore and seemed very agitated, and at least 7 porpoises washed up dead days later. In June, 2003 Gov. Locke wrote a letter to the acting secretary of the Navy requesting a report on the incident and an explanation of the mitigation measures to prevent it from happening again. He wrote: “The actual or potential impact of sonar use on Puget Sound marine mammals is a concern.”
Ten years ago Gov. Locke said about our endangered Chinook, “Extinction is not an option.”
As Secretary of Commerce, Locke will preside over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service (responsible for salmon and orca recovery) and will have a key role in determining how to best restore salmon runs in the Salish Sea and from the Columbia River to the Sacramento. The Obama team has declared that respect for science is back, and with Locke at Commerce and OSU marine biologist Jane Lubchenko as the new head of NOAA, there is every reason to expect that sound science will guide restoration efforts, at last.
Also, in December 2002, Governor Locke provided money from his own discretionary funds to pay for the rescue tug at Neah Bay to prevent oil spills, during the state’s $2-billion shortfall.
Gov. Locke is also among the political figures who have supported the goals of the Lolita Come Home campaign to retire the Southern resident orca captured in 1970 who remains on display in a Miami marine park. See Orca Network’s Captivity page.
If Gov. Locke is nominated and confirmed as Secretary of Commerce, he will be in a position to act on these principles immediately in the determination of the impacts of the proposed expansion of the Navy’s Northwest Training Range to include most of the waters along the coast from Neah Bay, WA, to Eureka, CA. If approved, multiple ships, subs and aircraft will be practicing with a wide range of sonars including explosive active sonars, along with demolition charges, torpedoes and a variety of anti-submarine munitions. See Orca Network’s page about the training range.
The comment period has been extended to March 11, and NOAA is required to review the proposal and comment on the potential impacts to marine mammals (including endangered Southern Resident orcas) and birds, fish (especially listed chinook salmon) and turtles along the coastline. The Navy EIS says no marine mammal mortalities are anticipated due to mitigations, such as placing observers on ships and listening for whale calls amid the maneuvering ships, sonars and explosions. As Secretary of Commerce, Locke (or Lubchenko) will review the EIS and at the very least, comment on how realistic that prediction of no mortalities really is. It’s unclear whether NOAA can hold up the training range expansion.
Locke can also be a valuable voice in Secretary of State Clinton’s diplomatic initiatives to tone down international tensions following 8 years of Bush/Cheney hostility, which degraded communications and contributed to the perceived need to train for an attack by enemy submarines.