William H. Hooke, a former NOAA veteran who directs the American Meteorological Society's Atmospheric Policy Program, praised Lautenbacher's ability to win support from the Bush administration for the monitoring plan.
"He's able to get his bosses, and by that I mean Cabinet-level people, to focus on this long-range problem in the midst of short-term concerns," Hooke said.
Retired Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr.
Title: Undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere; administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Education: Bachelor's degree, U.S. Naval Academy (Class of 1964); doctorate and master's of science in applied mathematics, Harvard University.
Family: Married; two children, four grandchildren.
Career highlights: Founded a management consulting business; chief executive, Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education; retired from the Navy after 40 years; commander of U.S. Naval Forces, Central Command Riyadh, during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm; commander, U.S. Third Fleet; deputy chief of naval operations, in charge of Navy programs and budget.
Hobbies: Banjo playing, woodworking, plumbing.
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Still, some members of Congress and some environmentalists have criticized Lautenbacher for not moving fast enough on problems such as global warming and overfishing.
When Lautenbacher appeared before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee last month, committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the administration's stance on climate change "disgraceful." McCain said he was "deeply disappointed, particularly in you, but also [in] the administration's attitude towards climate change."
Lautenbacher defended the administration's position, saying it is investing in technology to slow the emission of greenhouse gases. He said in an interview that "it's a real exaggeration to say the science is settled" on climate change.
"The body of evidence says man is changing the face of the Earth. I don't think anybody disputes that," Lautenbacher said. "The question is, what's the forecast? I don't think that's settled yet."
McCain remains skeptical. "I think he knows better, but the edict went out" on climate change, he said in an interview.
Marine advocates such as Michael Hirshfield, Oceana's vice president for North America, said Lautenbacher is clearly knowledgeable on ocean issues, but activists are still awaiting more aggressive regulation from NOAA to protect deep-sea corals and reduce the incidental catch of fish and other species.
Lautenbacher is unfazed by the criticism. "There are extreme environmentalists on one side who say we're not doing enough, and then there are other people who say we're doing far too much." Most Americans, he said, are "in the middle. Most people do not want to destroy the environment, but most people want a healthy economy and society."