Obama's Latest Choice for Commerce a Proven Conservationist

WASHINGTON, DC, February 26, 2009 (ENS) – “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,” President Barack Obama said Wednesday, announcing former Washington Governor Gary Locke as his choice to lead the Commerce Department.

“It is the task of the Department of Commerce to help create conditions in which our workers can prosper, our businesses can thrive, and our economy can grow,” the President said. “That’s what Gary did in Washington state, convincing businesses to set up shop and create the jobs of the 21st century – jobs in science and technology; agriculture and energy – jobs that pay well and can’t be shipped overseas.”

Locke is President Obama’s third choice to fill the position of Commerce Secretary. First, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a Democrat, bowed out because a grand jury is investigating a state contract. Then, after having approached the White House seeking the position, Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire backed out, citing philosophical differences with the President.

Accepting the nomination at the White House, Locke was the first of the nominees to mention the environmental aspect of the job.

“The Department of Commerce plays a critical role in nurturing innovation, expanding global markets, protecting and managing our ocean fisheries, and fostering economic growth,” said Secretary-designate Locke. “The Department of Commerce can and will help create the jobs and the economic vitality our nation needs.”

Gary Locke, left, accepts the nomination as Secretary of Commerce from President Barack Obama, center, as Vice President Joe Biden applauds. February 25, 2009. (Photo by Pete Souza courtesy The White House)

The Department of Commerce includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for fisheries management, the National Weather Service and climate research. 

If confirmed by the Senate, Locke will be the first Chinese-American Secretary of Commerce, and the third Asian American in Obama’s cabinet, joining Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu and Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, the most of any administration in U.S. history.

Locke served two terms as governor of Washington from 1997-2005. After leaving office, Locke joined the Seattle office of the international law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, in their China and governmental relations practice groups.

As governor, Locke was one of the first to enact regulations to limit climate change, citing the absence of a Bush administration policy to combat global warming.

In May 2005 Locke signed regulations into law requiring new power plants that burn fossil fuels to offset 20 percent of their carbon dioxide emissions. Utilities can mitigate a new plant’s emissions by investing in projects such as planting trees, which absorb carbon dioxide, or converting transit buses from diesel to cleaner-burning natural gas.

In 2003, the Democratic governors of California, Oregon and Washington, including Locke, agreed to cooperate in reducing greenhouse gas emissions on the West Coast through moves such as buying more hybrid cars for state government fleets, limiting the idling of diesel engines, and encouraging the increased use of renewable energy and energy-efficient appliances.

As governor, Locke was in step with the National Governors Association on a wide range of environmental issues.

Lock sought more state autonomy on brownfields and Superfund cleanups. He said, “Since the law was enacted in 1980, the Superfund program has caused significant amounts of litigation, while cleanup of hazardous waste sites has not been as fast or effective as the statute envisioned. In addition, states have not had the necessary tools or funding from the federal government to adequately clean up state sites.”

He supported application of “Good Samaritan” rules to abandoned mine cleanup, saying, “The Western Governors believe the Clean Water Act should be amended to protect a remediating agency from becoming legally responsible for any continuing discharges from the abandoned mine site after completion of a cleanup project, provided that the remediating agency, or ‘Good Samaritan,’ does not otherwise have liability for that abandoned or inactive mine site and attempts to improve the conditions at the site.

As governor, Locke held that the states should retain primary jurisdiction over water quantity issues, water resource allocation and the determination of beneficial uses.

He backed collaborative, incentive driven, locally-based solutions to water quality restoration, which he said is “essential for economic and environmental sustainability of forestry, agriculture, fisheries, manufacturing, recreation and public water supply.”

In 2003, Governor Locke asked the U.S. Navy for an explanation of the use of sonar that may have disrupted whales and caused the death of porpoises north of Seattle.

As governor, Locke also made endangered Chinook salmon preservation a priority.

By 1999, wild salmon had disappeared from about 40 percent of their historic breeding ranges in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California. In Washington, the numbers had dwindled so much that salmon were threatened or endangered in nearly three-fourths of the state.

Governor Locke and the Legislature began a series of steps to reverse the trend, renegotiating the U.S.-Canada agreement, establishing conservation goals in rivers shared with Idaho and Oregon, and funding salmon restoration and protection projects.

“In every area of the state, we’ve gotten people together to talk about the future of our salmon, and we’ve backed those discussions with funding and resources to turn the people’s vision into reality,” Locke said in 2004. “Today, every watershed with salmon has at least one citizens’ volunteer group working to restore and enhance habitats on which the fish depend.”

If he is confirmed as Commerce Secretary, Locke will be in an even stronger position to promote salmon restoration and recovery.

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