Political Correction

GOP Kills No-Cost Climate Measure For No Good Reason

November 21, 2011 4:20 pm ET - by Kate Conway


At least one part of the battle over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) 2013 budget should have been a no-brainer.

In a political atmosphere where the bottom line is paramount and a lot of breath is spent decrying bureaucratic inefficiency, a proposal to streamline an increasingly important part of NOAA's operations at the cost of a whopping zero additional taxpayer dollars might sound like something both sides could agree upon, and even like something the rather ornery GOP could get excited about.

Add in the fact that the proposal in question had wide-ranging support not only from within the agency's current ranks but also from the official who headed NOAA during the Bush administration, as well as from scientists and insurance industry representatives, and it sounds like an open-and-shut case, hardly more controversial than the post office-namings that are the usual site of interparty cooperation these days.

But unfortunately, the proposal was to streamline NOAA's data on climate by moving a number of initiatives spread out across the agency under one new "National Climate Service" moniker. Predictably skittish House Republicans panicked at the word "climate," and dug in their heels against the common-sense and cost-free change.

"Our hesi­ta­tion," Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) told [NOAA administrator Jane] Lubchenco at a hearing in June, "is that the climate services could become little propaganda sources instead of a science source."

At the same hearing, a key opponent to the service, Rep. Ralph M. Hall (R-Tex.), said he recognized that "certain climate services can provide value." But he fretted that the reorganization would "severely harm vital research at NOAA." [...]

In the NOAA budget battle, the Democratic-led Senate approved most of the climate service in its budget. The Republican-led House approved none of it. Led by Hall, the Republicans won.

Keep in mind that the point of creating the National Climate Service wouldn't be to launch additional research, and it certainly wouldn't have anything to do with advocating for legislation to address anthropogenic climate change — it would be to centralize scientifically sound climate-related work the agency is already conducting in a way that makes it more accessible to researchers, farmers, insurance agencies, and anyone else who uses its data.

There's no reason to think that grouping related work together would "harm vital research" — and there's even less of a reason to think it could "become little propaganda sources," unless you've been conditioned to fly into an anti-science rage every time the word "climate" is mentioned.

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