After years of attempts at cutting the agency’s funding, House Republicans want the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to focus more on predicting storms and less on studying climate change.
The House is set to vote next week on a bill that would force NOAA to prioritize its forecasting over its climate research. The bill, introduced last June by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), wouldn’t require NOAA to stop its climate research, but it would require the agency to “prioritize weather-related activities, including the provision of improved weather data, forecasts, and warnings for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.” Among other things, it would direct the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, NOAA’s research and development arm which studies weather, climate and other environmental forces, to create new weather programs, including one focused on tornado warnings.
Bridenstine, whose home state of Oklahoma was ravaged by severe tornadoes last year, said that the bill’s intent was to “protect lives and property by shifting funds from climate change research to severe weather forecasting research.”
But though scientists are still trying to determine what, if any, impact climate change has on tornadoes, science has shown that climate change is a driver of other forms of extreme weather. Bridenstine is also a known climate denier who last year asked President Obama to apologize to Oklahoma for investing in climate change research.
“We know that Oklahoma will have tornadoes when the cold jet stream meets the warm Gulf air, and we also know that this President spends 30 times as much money on global warming research as he does on weather forecasting and warning,” he said.
Congress has tried to influence what NOAA spends its time and money on in the past, but it hasn’t always been in line with a pro-weather research agenda. In 2011, a House-passed bill cut funding for NOAA satellite programs, which play a key role in weather forecasting, and in 2012, Republican lawmakers proposed further cuts to the satellite program. NOAA was also hit by last summer’s across-the-board sequester cuts, which forced NOAA to furlough employees so it could keep its weather forecasting and satellite operations intact.
Already, NOAA spends more on weather forecasting than it does on climate research. In 2013, NOAA spent about $742 million on local weather warnings and forecasts, compared to the $108 million it spent on ocean, coastal and Great Lakes research and $176 million it spent on climate research. And though the link between climate change and severe weather has grown clearer, NOAA has called for more research into the potential link between climate change and tornadoes, which is not as well understood.