Prominent Oregon scientist returns to White House duty with new climate role

By Monica Samayoa (OPB)
March 23, 2021 4:30 p.m. Updated: March 23, 2021 6:52 p.m.

The Oregon State University scientist and former head of NOAA under President Barack Obama will advise the Biden administration on climate science.

Jane Lubchenco, a well-known Oregon State University distinguished professor and a former Obama administration official, has been appointed a top climate change science role under President Joe Biden.

Last week, Lubchenco was named the deputy director for climate and the environment for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. In her role, Lubchenco will focus and lead efforts on climate change and environmental challenges we are currently facing that include health, economic recovery, equity, and sustainability.

A woman in an orange suit jacket and white blouse gestures as she sits at a table with a microphone.

Jane Lubchenco once found herself behind a microphone like this one, explaining to a member of Congress where TV weather stations get their weather data. She is pictured here in 2009, speaking to the American Association for Advancement of Science.

NASA/Bill Ingalls

“We’ve seen the impacts of climate change and environmental changes here at home and to be in the position to help the president in his agenda to ‘Build Back Better’ is really exciting,” she said in an interview with OPB, adding that her role is “to help bring good science to the policies that are being implemented, in addition to thinking about policies in a practical and sensible fashion.”

This is the first time the Office of Science and Technology Policy will be in the administration’s cabinet with hopes that it helps elevate and use science to influence policy decisions.

Lubchenco said she’s approaching her new role with a sense of urgency, informed in part by what she and other Oregonians have experienced over the past year.

“I lived through those ice storms, and the wildfires, and the worst air quality in the world last summer. Yet, I was one of the fortunate ones,” she said. “I still have a home, I was not displaced. And so, there is great urgency, people are suffering and they need help.”


She’s hopeful in finding climate solutions to help the country overcome its economic crisis.

Related: Reflections in a tide pool: Oregon’s Jane Lubchenco

Lubchenco will work with the administration’s science and climate advisors, including Gina McCarthy, who is the White House National Climate Coordinator.

“In the wake of an economic crisis and still reeling from a global pandemic, working families need leaders who know, as Dr. Lubchenco does, that the fight against climate change strengthens our opportunities for economic growth,” McCarthy said in an email sent to OPB. “I’m looking forward to working alongside her in this historic, newly named role to battle climate change and improve the lives of Americans for generations to come.”

McCarthy served under President Barack Obama as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, her stint overlapping with Lubchanco’s as Obama’s head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In that role, Lubchenco focused her efforts on restoring the oceans and coasts to a healthy state, restoring fisheries to sustainability and profitability and strengthening science integrity within the agency.

After her time at NOAA, Lubchenco spent two years as the State Department’s first U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean, where she worked to advance climate ready fisheries, sustainable aquaculture, smart ocean planning and sustainable economic development abroad.

“I was fortunate to work in the Obama-Biden administration. So I know how valued science was in that administration,” Lubchenco said. “I was horrified to see the misuse of science in the past administration, but make no mistake, science is back.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct focus of Lubchenco’s new role. OPB regrets this error.


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