Speculation mounts over Biden’s pick for head of the NOAA

Monica Melina, the founder of environmental newsletter Our Daily Planet and a senior figure in the first Obama term, is being touted as the next leader of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), according to reports.

The NOAA is expected to rise to new prominence when President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January as climate change becomes a key policy plank.

The Biden transition team is mapping out key priorities and identifying potential leaders for an agency whose responsibilities also include weather forecasting, ocean research, the health of the nation’s fisheries and protection of endangered marine species.

NOAA’s next leader will have the critical task of shaping the agency’s climate research agenda so it can effectively serve as an information clearinghouse to policymakers charged with planning for the consequences of climate change and mitigating its effects.

According to reports in the US media from former NOAA officials and environmental advocates who closely follow the agency, a leading candidate to run the agency is Molina Medina, who has twice held leadership positions at NOAA.

She was NOAA’s general counsel in the Clinton administration from 1997 to 1999, and principal deputy undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere under Obama from 2009 to 2012.

However, a possible sticking point is that Medina, unlike most past NOAA administrators, is not a scientist, and a complicating factor in her case is that she is married to incoming White House chief of staff Ronald Klain – though spouses often serve in different government departments.

Another contender to lead the agency is Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia.

Shepherd, who would be NOAA’s first Black administrator, is a former president of the American Meteorological Society and previously worked on weather satellites for NASA.

Shepherd has said publicly that he has held conversations with transition teams regarding the leadership and direction of key weather and climate agencies, including the NOAA and NASA.

Jane Lubchenco, who served as NOAA administrator under President Barack Obama, said the next person to lead the agency should hold “strong scientific climate and climate-ocean credentials” and have expertise in climate change impacts and how to address them.