A deep ideological objection to science has caused House Republicans to block a restructuring effort within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would have provided a valuable climate service to industry and the military. Ironically, it would have made this vital government agency more efficient. This is an extraordinarily sad casualty in the War on Science. Read on to understand the absurdity in this obstruction. — Stephen Lacey
By Kiley Kroh and Michael Conathan
House Republicans, led by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), killed the budget-neutral provision to create a climate service within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s proposed Climate Service, or NCS, would have consolidated NOAA’s existing, widely dispersed, climate-monitoring capabilities under a single management structure to meet Americans’ rising demand for authoritative and timely climate information. The move indicates a broader Republican assault on sound science as the basis for informed decision making, and in this instance, their intransigent opposition accomplished nothing more than preventing the government from working more efficiently.
Here are the top 10 reasons why the House Republicans’ war on the NCS is inherently indefensible and will be particularly damaging to small businesses, industry, the economy, and the American people.
1. Axing the NCS didn’t save any money. A House Appropriations Committee release last week implied that refusing to fund the proposed climate service saved $322 million. But as The Washington Post pointed out on November 20, Congress is still giving NOAA those funds for climate research and data delivery. In fact, NOAA didn’t ask for one additional penny of spending to create the service. Now, instead of enabling the agency to use taxpayer dollars more efficiently, those funds will be spread throughout multiple departments. Same investment, less return.
2. The NCS would increase government efficiency. As budget belt-tightening is all the rage on Capitol Hill these days, maximizing organizational efficiency should be a priority for the entire federal government and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. The proposed strategic reorganization would have allowed NOAA to advance science and deliver services more effectively with the funding it receives.
3. House Republicans based their opposition to the NCS on nothing more than climate denial. As Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) told NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco at a hearing in June, “Our hesitation is that the climate services could become little propaganda sources instead of a science source.” And Rep. Hall, chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, launched an investigation of NOAA in September, claiming the agency was running a “shadow climate service operation.” These allegations are absurd—again, according to the November 20 Post article, “For supposedly being in the dark, a lot of light shines on NOAA’s climate data: It’s been public for decades.” And the only thing the NCS would provide is data. Just like NOAA’s current climate operations, the NCS would not be regulatory or political—it would simply provide accurate information to governments, industry, and individuals to enable informed decision making.
4. Current services are already falling behind demand. Climate data help the public make informed decisions to prepare for and become more resilient to a changing world. The rapid increase in natural disasters and extreme weather has only heightened demand for these forecasts. As Lubchenco told Congress, the amount of climate data taken from the agency’s websites jumped 86 percent from 2009–2010. The rapidly increasing user demand has outpaced NOAA’s capacity to effectively deliver requested products and information and exceeded its ability to meet or be responsive to future needs.
5. Not having an NCS keeps benefits from accruing to large industries, small businesses, and farmers. According to NOAA, up to one-third of the U.S. gross domestic product—the largest measure of economic growth—depends on accurate weather and climate information. Insurance companies rely on climate data such as mean temperatures, precipitation, mean height above sea level, and storm frequency to calculate insurance premiums. The U.S. home-building industry estimates it provides savings of more than $300 million per year in construction costs. Farmers depend on NOAA’s climate data to determine what crops to plant and when, and to plan their irrigation needs.
6. The NCS would stimulate investment and economic growth. The NCS would allow NOAA to support the development of the private-sector climate industry that is emerging in much the same way that NOAA’s National Weather Service has spawned a roughly $1 billion weather industry. New markets could be created allowing businesses to take information and products generated by the government and convey them to the public, using a similar model to those that provide weather products.
7. The NCS would help businesses and communities become more prepared and resilient. Climate change will occur whether we track it or not. Without an NCS, the federal government states and cities will lack an authoritative, single source of information on the likelihood of extreme weather, sea level rise, and temperature shifts, to help address long-term vulnerabilities, plan infrastructure development, and establish adaptation plans.
8. The NCS would help firefighters predict extreme fire and drought seasons. NOAA’s climate forecasts, from seasonal precipitation outlooks to weekly on-the-ground U.S. Drought Monitor assessments, help firefighters in multiple states prepare for and respond to wildfire season. The record-breaking extreme fire season in Texas this year highlights the increased demand for NOAA’s climate data and the importance of delivering accurate and timely information.
9. The NCS would strengthen our national security. Testifying before Congress in June, U.S. Navy representative Robert Winkour emphasized efficient access to climate information is integral to the Navy’s mission to anticipate future threats to national security and the proposed service would help with “resource allocation and management” while also “facilitating data that we would need for national security.”
10. A few House GOP extremists derailed a proposal with widespread support. The concept of a consolidated NCS was first brought up back in the 1970s and gained traction in the Bush administration. The latest effort passed the U.S. Senate and has the support of Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, NOAA administrator under George W. Bush, as well as multiple scientific, industry, and nonprofit users of climate information, including the Alliance for Earth Observations, Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems, and the Reinsurance Association of America.
Kiley Kroh is the Associate Director for Ocean Communications and Michael Conathan is the Director of Ocean Policy at American Progress.