White House nominates Indian-American to key environmental post

Portrait of Jainey Bavishi, former Director of the NYC Office of Recovery and Resiliency, shot on Friday, June 15, 2018. She was nominated July 28, 2021 by President to to a top leadership position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Photo: NYC.gov
CREDIT: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office

The White House has picked Jainey Bavishi, a leading expert on responding to the challenges of climate change, to a top leadership position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Bavishi will serve as one of the two top deputies to NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad, an ocean scientist, who was confirmed by the Senate last month after being nominated by President Joe Biden in April.

The Biden administration has made confronting climate change one of its top priorities, and the appointment of Bavishi is fitting at an agency responsible for environmental prediction and monitoring and protecting the nation’s coasts, oceans and fisheries.

Bavishi most recently served as the director of the New York Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency, where she led a team that prepares the city for impacts of climate change. The office is working on several initiatives to protect the city’s structures and inhabitants, including installing a 2.4-mile flood protection system consisting of flood walls and floodgates and improving underground interior drainage systems in Manhattan.

“The Biden administration has picked a tremendous climate champion to serve the American people,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in an emailed statement. “Jainey’s leadership and vision has transformed New York City’s coastline and has helped to protect New Yorkers from destructive flooding and deadly heat waves.”

Her official title within the administration, if confirmed by the Senate, will be assistant secretary for oceans and atmosphere at the Department of Commerce. But, in practice, she will work at NOAA, which is housed in the Commerce Department, and serve as assistant secretary for conservation and management.

Bavishi “brings to the post a powerful combination of top-notch management skills, knowledge of Federal government and on-the-ground experience with environmental conservation and resilience,” wrote Kathy Sullivan, who served as NOAA administrator under President Obama, in an email.

Before Bavishi’s post in the New York Mayor’s office, she served in the Obama administration as the associate director for climate preparedness at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and as director of external affairs and senior policy adviser at NOAA. While at the Council on Environmental Quality, she was responsible for institutionalizing climate resilience considerations across Federal programs and policies.

Before that, Bavishi was the executive director of R3ADY Asia-Pacific, a Hawaii-based public-private partnership to reduce the risk of natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific region. There she worked with David Lassner, president of the University of Hawaii.

“Jainey has spent her entire career in service to people and the planet,” Lassner wrote in an email. “[S]he developed a deep understanding and appreciation of the interactions and interrelationships among the land, seas, and atmosphere with human behavior as well as proven skills in collaboration on complex matters across public and private sectors to achieve outcomes.”

Her background in working across organizations will probably be relied on by Spinrad, who listed developing services to support climate change work within NOAA and with its partners as one of his top priorities.

Bavishi may also get pulled into efforts to explore the development of a “National Climate Service,” which makes climate data, forecasts, and decision support tools available to the public akin to the National Weather Service’s efforts with weather information.

NOAA faces numerous additional challenges that Bavishi will probably join Spinrad in attempting to address, which include:

– addressing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, marine litter and ocean plastics, the health of corals, and keeping fisheries sustainable, while advancing the nation’s “blue economy” of goods and services the oceans provide to coastal communities;

– restoring the agency’s reputation and staff morale in the wake of “Sharpiegate,” involving President Trump’s false claim that Hurricane Dorian was going to strike Alabama, as well as the appointment of two climate science skeptics to senior positions in the waning days of his administration;

– increasing gender and racial diversity at the agency, where women and African Americans are deeply underrepresented.

“Jainey has been prepared for this opportunity to: represent the interests of communities across America who are struggling with disparate impacts of climate disasters,” wrote Flozell Daniels, Jr., president of the Foundation for Louisiana, where Bavishi also worked previously. The foundation is a social justice grant maker that aims to address long-standing inequities for Louisianans.

While Bavishi’s portfolio at NOAA will probably focus on climate adaptation and resource management, the White House has yet to nominate a second deputy to Spinrad who would concentrate on environmental prediction and observations, including weather forecasting. The agency faces several additional challenges in these areas, which include:

– improving the agency’s flagship weather prediction system, which lags behind its counterparts in Europe;

– launching a new generation of weather satellites;

– upgrading the National Weather Service’s aging and declining information technology infrastructure.

The Biden administration has signaled supporting NOAA’s activities is a clear priority by proposing a $7 billion budget for the agency, the most in its history.

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