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Federal City Digest

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alaska Volcano Makes Case For Earth Science Funding

In February, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) decried the presence of expanded funding for "something called 'volcano monitoring' " in President Obama's stimulus package, turning the geologic program into a flash point for fiscal conservatives and raising the ire of scientists.

Yesterday, policymakers got a chance to reemphasize the importance of the monitoring program after Alaska's Mount Redoubt erupted overnight, sending five explosive bursts of ash and steam as far as nine miles into the air and shutting down many flights at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

"This is an indicator and proof of the importance of earth science to the United States of America and to the Department of the Interior and the" U.S. Geological Survey, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said during a telephone briefing. "Through the work of the USGS and being able to monitor what was happening with Volcano Redoubt, we were able to actually forecast this event . . . to prevent the endangerment of people and places that would otherwise have occurred."

USGS tracking of magma movements and seismic activity and comparison of recent changes with those that preceded the 1989-1990 eruption of the volcano, which continued for four months, allowed scientists to anticipate the eruption this time around, said USGS acting Director Suzette M. Kimball. The National Weather Service is now carefully tracking the path of the clouds of ash as they travel away from the volcano to prevent a recurrence of what happened during the last eruption, when a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines plane encountered ash 150 miles from Redoubt, lost power to its engines and plummeted two miles before regaining power.

Twenty thousand passengers per day travel through airspace affected by the volcano, Salazar said.

WHAT TO WATCH

-- President Obama will meet today at the White House with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. At 8 p.m., Obama will hold a formal news conference.

-- At 10 a.m., the House Financial Services Committee will draw the big guns to its second hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Government's Intervention at American International Group." At the testimonial table: Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and New York Federal Reserve President William C. Dudley.

-- Conservative Democrats will come under some not-so-friendly fire in the morning, when Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future; USAction President William McNary; and Jane Hamsher, a blogger at Firedoglake.com, announce a campaign by various liberal groups to "Dog the Blue Dogs" for questioning the president's budgetary priorities.

-- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing at 2:30 p.m. on the nomination of Thomas Strickland to be assistant secretary for fish and wildlife at the Interior Department. Strickland will testify.

-- Garance Franke-Ruta federalcity@washpost.com

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