Mar 09 2007
Republican Sen. Richard Shelby criticized the White House Thursday for proposing to cut spending on the federal agency that researches weather and tracks violent storms like those that struck southeastern Alabama last week.
The budget plan that President Bush submitted to Congress last month calls for about $3.8 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), roughly $100 million less than the current year. Among other things, NOAA houses the National Weather Service.
Shelby, the top-ranking Republican on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the spending, said the recent Alabama storms and Gulf Coast hurricanes illustrate the need for improved research and technology.
But, the Tuscaloosa native said, "Congress continually receives a budget request from the administration that downplays critical science activities."
"We must improve short-term forecasting and gain a better understanding of long-term climate change," he added in a prepared statement delivered at an appropriations hearing. "After forecasting, we must explore what can be done in advance communications so that warnings can reach communities quicker. We must find better ways to respond."
Shelby might also have a more parochial concern with the budget. He has sought -- unsuccessfully so far -- to get a $20 million earmark to build a NOAA disaster response center in Mobile.
NOAA spokesman David Miller defended the president's proposal. He said it represents an increase over what the president requested last year, even though it would cut what was ultimately approved. He called the $3.8 billion total "impressive" given that the country is at war and has other national priorities.
NOAA conducts extensive research on oceans and climate, while also regulating fisheries and producing weather warnings and forecasts through the National Weather Service.
In the recent storms that ripped across the Southeast, the service provided tornado warning lead times of between 12 minutes and 55 minutes, it said in a release, giving local emergency officials critical time to air public sirens and other warnings.
The storms killed 20 people in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri, including eight students at Enterprise High School.