Will an Ideological Opposition to Climate Science Prevent Republicans from Making Government More Efficient?

There’s a fight brewing over federal government re-structuring that may have enormous implications for our ability to monitor climate and more efficiently deploy tax payer dollars. But is the “debate” just thinly-veiled opposition to climate science?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the organization responsible for weather forecasting, gathering data on climate patterns and monitoring the health of the marine environment, is proposing a management shift to bring climate-related science and services under one umbrella to more efficiently meet growing demand for data from the military, insurance companies, farmers, firefighters, home builders and utilities.

NOAA administrators say that they’re getting an overwhelming number of requests for climate data, and the authority to re-structure the organization would allow them to more efficiently meet demand and allow the military and the private sector to respond to the data. (For example, NOAA says the residential home building industry has saved $300 million a year due to their ability to adapt to changing frost line levels.)

“Our core climate science, information, and service activities are distributed across multiple line offices and therein inhibit our ability to efficiently target and deploy our resources and efforts,” explained NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco at a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing today.


Also testifying at the hearing, the Navy’s Deputy Oceanographer Robert Winokur said the proposed service would help with “resource allocation and management” while also “facilitating data that we would need for national security.”

Sounds like a commonsense budget-neutral measure to improve data distribution and make government more efficient, right?

Not according to some House Republicans who strongly oppose the measure, claiming that NOAA started the re-structuring without Congressional authority, making it “illegal.” NOAA’s Lubchenco re-iterated this morning that nothing had changed within NOAA, and that the structural changes wouldn’t happen without approval from Congress.

However, the “authority” issue is not the full story. Many of the objections to NOAA’s climate service come from members of Congress that are ideologically opposed to recognizing or addressing climate change.

Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA), who in 2009 called climate change “one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated out of the scientific community” lashed out at the idea of a comprehensive climate service, labeling it a “politically-motivated propaganda office” that would engage in “policy advocacy.”


Congressman Randy Hultgren (R-IL), who in 2009 proclaimed “things like Cap-n-Trade really bug me because it’s government intrusion with very sketchy science,” has also opposed the climate service, saying today that “it must be concluded that this is a political decision, not a scientific one.”

And Representative Andy Harris (R-MD), who has called cap and trade a “job killing” “energy tax,” used the hearing to lambast NOAA for putting out a web-based magazine on climate issues, saying “normally when you think of science, you don’t think of magazines.” (Except, of course, Scientific American, Popular Science, Wired, New Scientist, and dozens more.) But Rep. Harris believes that a magazine giving the pop-version of climate science is “absolutely atrocious.”

Lubchenco countered the claims that NOAA was engaged in political behavior by explaining that a climate service is just that: a data service.

“Our proposed service has nothing to do with cap and trade. It’s not regulatory. It’s designed to give accurate information to industry so they can in turn use that information to make good decisions.”

In addition, she explained that a comprehensive one-stop-shop service would give “greater transparency about where tax payer dollars are going” and allow Congress to better monitor how funds are being used.

With all the huffing and puffing about government efficiency on Capitol Hill these days, it would seem a proactive approach to restructuring such an important service would be an attractive, non-partisan solution. But evidently not when the word “climate” is involved.