Of a possible $1.4 billion dollars in proposed spending cuts in the Departments of Commerce and Justice for 2013, the U.S. House Representatives voted to approve none of them. None of them except a piddly $542,000 for a NOAA climate website. The amendment was approved 219-189 Tuesday evening TheHill.com reported.
The NOAA “climate website” is Climate.gov - a portal to NOAA’s climate information.
The website - currently in a prototype stage - provides a rich set of climate information, tools, and data resources. With a little investment, it has the potential to provide tremendous benefits to decision makers. One wonders, then, why the 56 percent funding increase for this website proposed by the President was the low-hanging fruit snipped off the vine.
Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD), serving eastern Maryland, who offered the amendment, justified it as an effort to save taxpayers money.
“I don’t know of many Maryland families who have received a 56% increase in their incomes this year during the longest sustained period of high unemployment in our country’s history – and it’s not fair for a government agency to do so either,” Harris said in a press release.
But couldn’t the website provide a substantial return on the relatively trivial investment?
In 2011, the U.S. experienced 14 separate billion dollar weather disasters with more than $60 billion in damages.
One of the primary motivations for the website is to provide resources to state and local decisionmakers to assist them in making their communities more resilient to extreme weather/climate events.
Efforts are underway to build tools into the website for science-based problem solving. For example:
* NOAA climate data are difficult to find, scattered across various websites. Climate.gov aims to seamlessly bring all of this data together in a highly accessible and interactive interface to assist planners in evaluating risk using this historic information.
* There are plans for a decision support section of the website with social media tools to facilitate conversations among decision makers in different sectors about best practices in preparing for and responding to climate events.
NOAA is mandated by Congress to advance understanding and share knowledge about climate, and, importantly, to leverage science for societal benefit and to stimulate the economy. The Climate.gov effort supports those mandates.
Maybe opposition to ramping up this website reflects a misunderstanding of what it can potentially accomplish. Or maybe the rationale is political, linked to skepticism about anthropogenic climate change.
For Harris’ part, when NOAA proposed establishing a budget neutral National Climate Service last year, he opposed it because “the climate services could become little propaganda sources instead of a science source” (source: Salon.com, see also: Nature.com: Agency director defends US climate service proposal).
NOAA has a solid track record of providing credible, scientifically sound climate information, not propaganda. That is, unless Harris considers peer reviewed science on climate change and its causes propaganda.
Congress faces tough choices in upcoming appropriations. Difficult cuts will be made - many for valuable programs and initiatives.
Maybe the Climate.gov website isn’t a high enough priority to invest in compared to others. But so far I’ve yet to encounter a compelling argument that it should not be supported.
Opinions expressed are my own
(Note: the amendment has only made it through the House floor. In order for it to become reality, the Senate would also need to support this measure.)
UPDATE, 9 p.m. Thursday: Angela Fritz at wunderground has more on Harris’ rationale for the amendment. Let’s just say it’s pretty hollow...