Mar 09 2007

Shelby opposes NOAA budget cut

Associated Press

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.