Paper shows Big Green’s ‘inside’ push for catch shares

EDF’s 2005 document hails staffer’s slot on fishery council as a way to ‘work’ regulatory process

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times [MA]
November 15, 2009

Since at least the 1990s, [Environmental Defense Fund] has been pushing globally to have commonly owned ocean fish stocks converted into catch quotas that could be assigned as rights, creating tradeable market products that attract capital investment. New England has become the primary battleground.

In a paper an EDF official described as a grant proposal not meant for public distribution, the New York-based nonprofit environmental giant indicated four years ago that the appointment of “ocean program senior staff” member Sally McGee to the council in 2003 would allow EDF to “work the regulatory process from the inside.”

Matched to McGee’s strategic activities at the council and grassroots level, the paper suggested, were the continuing activities of David Festa, the oceans program administrator and a former policy director in the Commerce Department in the Clinton administration, at the pinnacle of power in Washington, the EDF document stated.

Festa, now an EDF vice president on the West Coast, would “bring pressure to bear in Washington” in order to create “top down” support for “our initiatives,” EDF said in the paper, written in April 2005.

Festa is a longtime close associate of Jane Lubchenco, the catch share-promoting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who had been the vice chairman of EDF and an academic scientist when President Obama chose her as national steward of oceans and atmosphere.

Festa and Lubchenco co-taught a class at Oregon State University and co-bylined an op-ed piece suggesting President George W. Bush was an environmentalist after he used a disputed executive power to declare a vast marine protected zone in the Pacific. The 2005 grant proposal extols marine protected areas.

Lubchenco’s first public policy initiative was to challenge the New England council to approve without delay a long-debated catch share program for the region’s groundfishery.

The council complied in June. But at its September meeting, the council implicitly agreed it made mistakes by moving so quickly — it initiated revisions to the design of the bitterly debated transformation of the fishery, now largely stabilized and moving toward the sustainability mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Council meeting in R.I.

Finalizing these modifications — further limits to the fishing opportunities for those who have eschewed the catch share program — is a major item on the agenda for the council meeting that begins tomorrow in Newport, R.I.

The three-day meeting comes with EDF and the Obama administration’s faith in catch shares under attack not only by fishing interests but also by Congressman Barney Frank, who since the death of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, has become the lead critic of the regional fishing policies, and even the Pew Environment Group.

Pew held two national teleconferences earlier this month to urge the administration to go slow on catch shares, and Frank recently released a letter to Lubchenco underscoring the potential for social destabilization resulting from catch shares’ power to concentrate ownership of fishing capacity via ruthless market forces.

Since Lubchenco took office, a number of positions on councils for other regions’ fisheries were filled with EDF and catch share partisans. McGee’s initial appointment pre-dates Lubchenco’s NOAA leadership, but McGee was reappointed last summer to a third council term.

Meanwhile, Festa — whose EDF salary was more than $300,000 in 2007 — last spring cited the windfall profit potential in the early acquisition of catch shares during an investors’ conference at the Milken Institute on the West Coast.

Writing to the Sapling Foundation in 2008 about a 2003 grant, Festa said, “EDF’s Oceans Program has turned this investment into what we now call the ‘Big Bet’ a campaign to convert the majority of US, Canadian and Latin American fisheries to catch shares.”

With assets and liabilities of $145.7 million in 2007, the last year for which its IRS filings are available, EDF is one of the nation’s largest and most influential ENGOs — for environmental non-government organizations — and has become known for its faith in the idea that market dynamics are the best tools for solving environmental problems…

…EDF’s sole rival among ENGOs in resources and influence is the Pew Environment Group, a division of the $5 billion Pew Charitable Trusts. Both 501(c)3s have made themselves permanent parts of the political Washington’s political sinew.

EDF and Pew share a commitment to the “cap-and-trade” approach to carbon waste reduction in the continuing debate on climate control during last spring’s U.S. House committee hearings and were perceived to be sharing a similar commitment to catch shares — until Pew’s teleconferences in early November…

The entire article is at Gloucester Daily Times.

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