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Biden transition team mulled bringing back John Holdren as science advisor & Katharine Hayhoe to National Climate Assessment

By Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter

One of the transition team’s top candidates to lead either NOAA or NASA doesn’t want the job, and another contender for NOAA chief is married to President-elect Joe Biden’s chief of staff.

But there are more — a lot more — people out there competing for a range of climate science positions at NASA, NOAA and elsewhere, sources said. So much so that one observer warned that Biden could be dissuaded from picking a climate hawk for his top science adviser position because there might be “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

Transition discussions have centered around a few key candidates, some who would be new to Washington while others are Obama administration veterans, according to multiple sources who spoke on background because they were not authorized to talk on the record.

J. Marshall Shepherd, chair of NASA’s Earth Science Advisory Committee, has been mentioned frequently as a possibility for NOAA administrator, which The Washington Post first reported. He is also being discussed as a possible head for NASA.

Shepherd leads the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia and is a former president of the American Meteorological Society. He was also a research meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Shepherd told E&E News that he would turn down an offer to lead the nation’s premier science agencies because he wants to spend time with his family before his children go to college. He told E&E News that he is flattered to be considered, but believes NOAA and NASA have to do a lot of rebuilding after the Trump years.

“I feel like my role is more valuable external to the government,” he said. “Where some people are sort of awestruck or starstruck by these potential opportunities, my first thought is about the realistic aspects of them, the challenges of them because I’ve seen the work ahead. It’s going to require someone to get down and dirty in those positions. You’re going to need to have someone who’s willing to commit a good portion of their time.”

Shepherd said he would endorse Everette Joseph, director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, for the NOAA job. Joseph is under serious consideration for that position, according to multiple sources.

Joseph spent a significant part of his career heading the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at the State University of New York at Albany and helped establish an advanced weather detection system in the state. If nominated, Joseph would also become NOAA’s first Black administrator.

There has been some discussion about bringing in Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University and a lead author of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, into a public climate role.

However, it was unclear if that would be as science adviser at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy or as lead scientist at NOAA or NASA. Hayhoe also has been discussed as a possible head of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which coordinates research across multiple federal agencies.