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March 10, 2011

Potential Commerce successor has close ties to EDF

U.S. Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk, identified in multiple news reports as President Obama's potential choice as the next Commerce secretary overseeing the oceans and atmosphere, has worked on two major business deals in Texas involving the Environmental Defense Fund.

That $200 million nonprofit is known for its faith in markets, business partnerships and authorship of the Obama administration's "catch share" initiative, which treats fisheries like commodities markets.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's new fishery management system built on those principles has set off intense ideological and political battles along the coasts, in the courts, and in Congress.

The first Texas deal involved an epic buyout of an energy company, and led to the partnering of EDF and KKR & Co., which pioneered the leveraged takeover, in a "green portfolio program."

The second deal involved Kirk and EDF's Texas chief in an the ill-fated launch of an ethical investment bank.

The transition from Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Obama's nominee to be ambassador to China, comes with much of the U.S. fishing industry along the East and Gulf coasts in fierce resistance against re-engineering of the traditional fisheries, long featuring small, independent, owner/operator boats and businesses, into catch share systems built on trading or selling fishermen's "shares" of an assigned fish catch to larger corporations and outside investors.

EDF's former vice chairwoman, Jane Lubchenco, heads the National Oceanic Administration, reporting to the Commerce secretary. And Lubchenco has expressed that one of her goal's is the elimination of a "significant fraction of the vessels."

Locke is perceived not as a partisan allied to Lubchenco and EDF, as much as a buffer to the industry's push-back against the EDF-crafted catch share policy, which has come from a broad bipartisan coalition in Congress.

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