by Michael Conathan
Last week in Colorado, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, again laid out a strong case for investment in new environmental satellites to replace our current aging infrastructure. As we’ve reported on multiple occasions, it’s already too late to prevent at least an 18-month gap in some coverage, meaning future forecasts of extreme weather events will be as much as 50 percent less accurate—just as the frequency of such events is rapidly increasing.
Not even two-thirds of the way through the year, 2011 has already set the record for the most individual disaster events causing more than a billion dollars in damage, and hurricane season hasn’t even started yet. The New York Times had the details of the event:
“The nation is increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather,” said Dr. Lubchenco, who sought emphatically to link that vulnerability to the importance of financing for NOAA.
In the first half of August, she said, 5,000 heat records were broken across the United States. About 2,000 of those were for the highest maximum temperature on a given day, and 3,000 were for the highest minimum temperature. This means nights as well as days have been getting hotter.
From January to July, 6.1 million acres across the country burned in wildfires, breaking the previous record by more than a million acres. At the end of July, 26 percent of the United States was suffering extreme or severe drought conditions, while 33 percent was extremely or severely wet.
While the House Appropriations Committee endorsed the transfer of $430 million from NOAA’s ocean and fisheries programs to ensure there would be no cuts to the National Weather Service and to fund the purchase of new satellites, the reality is this amount represents less than half of what is needed.
Meanwhile, this action defunds programs, including those integral to ocean monitoring as well as the ocean and coastal economy and job creation. Specifically the bill would:
- Slash nearly 50 percent of the funding for the Integrated Ocean Observing System which provides information critical to weather forecasting and long-term monitoring data sets.
- Reduce by nearly a third the budget for NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, which is responsible for developing methods of responding to coastal pollution events. (Recall that after the BP oil disaster we were all so surprised that technology hadn’t been updated since the Exxon Valdez spill more than two decades earlier? How soon we forget…)
- Decimate funding for the National Marine Fisheries Service, reducing the overall budget by over $200 million, more than 20%, and jeopardizing any progress we are making towards ending overfishing, and rebuilding fish stocks—action that, as my colleague Lee Crockett put it, “could at least triple the net economic value of many U.S. fisheries.”
Here’s a not-so-novel idea: instead of playing Whack-a-Mole by shifting pittances from one corner to another of an already underfunded agency, repeal $21 billion in subsidies taxpayers will dole out over the next 10 years to big oil companies that have already raked in far more than that in profits during the first half of 2011 for contributing to the disasters that have already cost the nation more than $35 billion.
Apparently Republicans would rather pay oil companies once to make messes and then pay again to clean them up.
— Michael Conathan is the Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress.