I normally do not spend much work—or leisure—time thinking about the U.S. Department of Commerce. The past several days, have been the exception. While in Denver last week for a Minor Crop Farmer Alliance workshop on pesticides and the Endangered Species Act, I learned about the consultation role NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, plays in certain chemical registration decisions by the Environmental Protection Agency. NOAA, a part of Commerce, has the role of protector of certain endangered salmon and is not a big fan of agricultural chemicals that might enter fish spawning streams.
But what really caught my attention yesterday was the nomination by President Obama of a new secretary of Commerce. You might remember that the current secretary is Gary Locke, the former governor of Washington state and now nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to the Middle Kingdom, also known as the People’s Republic of China. (In our complicated political world, the former U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, quit in January and is now trying to gain the Republican party’s nomination for the next presidential election.)
Who did Mr. Obama nominate? One John Bryson, a businessman. What is noteworthy from my standpoint about this graduate of the Yale law school? Mr. Bryson was co-founder in 1970 of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a group vividly remembered by apple growers as the prime instigators of the Alar scare.
Both nominations (Locke to China and Bryson to Commerce) need U.S. Senate confirmation. This will be a slow process since Republicans want to see votes on three free trade agreements, now languishing due to opposition by labor union interests, before moving on any Presidential trade policy nominations.
To complete my report on the Department of Commerce, I signed today a letter generated by several national agricultural groups opposing the folding of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service into any other department of government. Some in the capital city would like to see all trade policy shops, including the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and FAS under one roof—and Commerce would like to provide that roof.