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“More Extreme Weather, Decreasing Capabilities”: Sequester Forces NOAA Satellite Cuts To Save Weather Jobs

There has been mounting concern over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s mandatory furloughs of National Weather Service employees amidst increasingly severe weather. As a result, NOAA has reportedly submitted a plan to Congress that would restore the jobs at the expense of its weather satellites.

This ‘pay one debt to incur another’ plan is the result of budget cuts mandated by sequestration, which severely threaten the agency’s ability to carry out its key mission by slashing $271 million from its 2013 budget, including a $50 million cut in its geostationary weather satellite program.

After the devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma and Missouri and in preparation for what’s predicted to be an extremely active hurricane season, NOAA’s acting administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan announced last week that the agency was cancelling its mandatory furloughs, but provided no details on how it would be offset.

On Sunday evening, Politico reported that the agency has proposed draining the funds from the promising COSMIC-2 satellite program in order to save weather jobs on the ground.

A joint initiative with Taiwan, the COSMIC program began with the launch of six satellites in 2006. As the initial fleet nears the end of its life, COSMIC-2 would launch 12 new satellites into orbit with the capacity to collect and transmit an enormous amount of data that enhance weather forecasts and climate models. According to the program’s website, more than 2373 researchers from 71 countries are registered users of COSMIC data, which are freely available to users in all countries, and 90% of COSMIC soundings are available within three hours of collection.

Whereas most satellites point down toward Earth, COSMIC satellites are unique in that they look across the horizon and monitor radio signals from the dozens of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. Since so many soundings are collected continually around the globe — including atmospheric density, pressure, moisture and temperature data from space — COSMIC provides a three-dimensional picture of the diurnal cycle in all types of weather.

This is particularly helpful in collecting data above the oceans, polar regions, and other hard-to-sample areas. According to Nature, COSMIC team members hoped to launch the first six COSMIC-2 satellites in 2016 “to orbit a narrow section of the tropics, gathering data that would reduce uncertainty in measurements of hurricane intensities by 25%, and in those of hurricane tracks by 25–50%”.

As climate change increases the severity of extreme weather across the country, sequester was already jeopardizing NOAA’s ability to provide accurate and advance forecasting of extreme weather events by further delaying the launch of replacements for the agency’s aging geostationary satellites.

While NOAA has yet to make any statement on its plan to avoid furloughs, cutting the COSMIC-2 program to save forecasting jobs does not mean forecasting quality will stay the same — instead, sequester cuts just create more problems elsewhere by undermining the ability to predict and prepare for severe weather in the future.

As Michael Conathan, Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress explained, “This is not cutting spending to increase efficiency, it’s cutting spending that will decrease capabilities.”

 

By: Kiley Kroh, Think Progress, June 10, 2013

June 13, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Opportunistic Capitulation”: For The GOP, Spending Cuts For Thee But Not For Me, Because It’s Different This Time

But this time it’s different…

How many times have we heard those words – not as an apology for past mistakes but as a justification for one’s current actions?

It seems the GOP excels at this justification. Whether it be championing spending cuts, but then seeking to restore funding for the Federal Aviation Administration because “it’s different when they have to wait in line at the airport,” or Michelle Bachman decrying Obama’s stimulus package as “fantasy economics” and an “orgy” of government spending, but then being the first to request funding to stimulate projects in her home state of Minnesota. Ah yes, it’s just “so different.”

Recently, we saw two more such examples of opportunistic capitulating. In 2008, Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla., bragged in a press release after then-President Bush declared 24 Oklahoma counties eligible for disaster aid due to severe weather, “I am pleased that the people whose lives have been affected by disastrous weather are getting much-needed federal assistance.” But four years later he voted to deny emergency funding for those areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Then, when confronted with the prospect of providing federal disaster aid money to those decimated in Moore, Oklahoma following the devastating tornado, Inhofe pledged his unqualified support, stating on MSNBC that unlike Sandy, this is “totally different.” Really? When Americans lose their homes, possessions and livelihood due to uncontrolled natural forces, I didn’t think there really was a difference or justification for politicians to pick and choose the winners and losers.

And then there’s Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., who was elected on the tea party platform vowing to reform government such as farm programs and cut wasteful spending. During the recent House Agriculture Committee’s markup of the Farm Bill, he lived up to his promise and voted to cut $20 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly known as food stamps – but then turned around and SUPPORTED an increase and expansion of crop insurance subsidies by $9 billion over the next 10 years.

In committee, he claimed that SNAP funding, which goes to those whose income is below 130 percent of the federal poverty line, (mainly children, elderly and military retirees), is stealing “other people’s money that Washington is appropriating and spending,” but yet, somehow, he has no issue spending “other’s people money” to fund crop insurance subsides because they are “so different.”

The kicker: According to research by the Environment Working Group, Fincher is the second most heavily subsidized farmer in Congress and one of the largest subsidy recipients in Tennessee history. From 1999 to 2012, Fincher received $3.48 million in crop insurance subsidies.

I guess the rule-of-thumb is when it affects your personal bottom line – either financially or by impacting your prospective political longevity, things truly are different.

 

By: Penny Lee, U. S. News and World Report, May 29, 2013

May 30, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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