Senate appropriators share our distrust of NOAA and the White House on essential climate satellites


The Senate Appropriations Committee reported a FY2008 NOAA funding bill on June 28 that provides $400 million above the President’s request. “The committee is doubtful this administration will ever show the leadership and bold thinking required to address the true needs of our planet’s oceans and atmosphere,” the committee report says. The report also expresses doubt about whether the administration will commit to timely budget increases needed to fund the sensors for measuring essential climate variables that were dropped from the NPOESS satellite system by the Pentagon and NOAA. How best to mitigate this damage presents a dilemma.

Environment & Energy Daily reported (by subscription only) on June 29:

Senate panel slams Bush admin proposal for NOAA

Lauren Morello, E&E Daily reporter

Senate appropriators yesterday took aim at the Bush administration’s handling of oceans and climate issues as they voted 28-1 to send the $54.6 billion Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill to the Senate floor….

Though the $3.81 billion budget request qualifies as the Bush administration’s “most robust NOAA budget ever,” it is still $268.7 million below the agency’s fiscal 2007 enacted budget, lawmakers said in report language accompanying the CJS bill.

“The committee is doubtful this administration will ever show the leadership and bold thinking required to address the true needs of our planet’s oceans and atmosphere,” the report said.

The CJS bill approved yesterday would set aside $4.2 billion for NOAA, $400 million above the White House request and $200 million above the House subcommittee mark for the agency.

See our posts on June 4 here (“Key points in NASA-NOAA report to White House science office on NPOESS de-scoping”) and here (“Internal report to White House on implications of NPOESS climate observations crisis”) for material on NOAA and the crisis of the National Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS).

Lauren Morello at E&E Daily reports:

Senate appropriators also said they were “extremely concerned” with management of NOAA’s satellites, adding their voices to a growing chorus of congressional discontent on that issue.

“The committee believes that continuous oversight by Congress is necessary given NOAA’s track record,” reads the CJS report, which directs the agency to provide quarterly reports to appropriators on satellite program staffing plans, budgets and technical risks.

Zeroing in on the agency’s highest profile satellites, the long-delayed National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, lawmakers said they were skeptical that the Bush administration would follow through on promises to resurrect climate sensors cut or scaled back during a budget review last year.

NOAA and NASA recommended adding back eight climate sensors in a confidential report delivered to the White House in December, citing concerns that the slimmed-down NPOESS “places the overall climate program in serious jeopardy.”

But senators said yesterday they doubt the Bush administration will commit to the necessary budget increases, despite NOAA’s already announced plans to add back at least one of the instruments.

“The committee suspects that instead of paying for this vital investment through increased funding, the administration will instead try to do things on the cheap or better yet, redirect funds away from NOAA’s other programs,” the CJS report said.

The Senate panel also asked NOAA for a report, including costs, on its plans to replace the aging QuikSCAT satellite, which the agency uses to help formulate its two- and three-day hurricane forecasts….

Copyright 2007 E&E Publishing, LLC.

We believe it is essential for the currently “de-manifested” climate sensors, and the sensors that are planned to fly with lowered capability or coverage, to be funded and developed. And they need to be flown in a timely enough manner to prevent breaks in the continuity of current painstakingly acquired observational datasets on essential climate variables. The White House, the Pentagon, and NOAA have done a disservice by their actions on NPOESS that have placed the future of the U.S. climate change observing system in serious jeopardy.

However, we were always suspicious of the wisdom of making the global climate observing system sensors hostage to hitching a ride aboard the next generation of military weather forecasting satellites.  Now, it is not entirely clear to us whether the best answer on mitigating the damage being done is to try to put the sensors back on the DoD-NOAA NPOESS system, or to begin to disconnect from NPOESS and move toward developing a set of free-flying climate satellites, under NASA leadership, that would be dedicated to the precise measurement capability necessary for “climate-quality” data for future scientific analysis. 

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