Economic stimulus bill climate change science provisions for NASA and NOAA


The economic stimulus bill (H.R. 1) that passed by a wide margin in the House of Representatives January 28 and its Senate companion that passed today by a vote of 61-37 both contain appropriations that will (barely) begin to save federal Earth observing programs essential to understanding how the climate is changing.  Let’s use this opportunity to build support to bring back “Mission to Planet Earth.”

post by Anne Polansky

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act now being debated in Congress includes funding that will begin to rescue US satellite Earth observation capability beleaguered by an ill-advised 1994 decision to merge military and civilian meteorological systems, and by severe budget cuts under the Bush administration.  Both the House and Senate versions provide appropriations for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that represent a good start towards repairing the damage done to our capability to take the pulse of the planet from space. 

For the latest versions of these two bills, visit the Appropriations Committee websites for the House ( and Senate (

In the most trouble is the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), a next-generation satellite program established in 1994 by a presidential directive under the Clinton administration that merged the meteorological satellite programs of NOAA and the Defense Department.  The NPOESS system was also designed to include a set of state of the art sensors for key parameters that would form a core component of the next-generation climate monitoring capability.  In hindsight, tying the future of the nation’s remote-sensing climate observations capability to the Defense meteorological system appears to have been a big mistake.  DoD’s priorities do not align with those of climate science.  Poor management and technical problems resulted in significant cost overruns on the system, leading DoD to make cutbacks in the number of planned satellites and to eliminate or downgrade the quality of key on-board climate sensors.  These developments threatened to produce a seriously compromised ability to detect key changes in the climate system.  (See, for example, a 2006 Dept of Commerce Inspector General’s report, Poor Management Oversight and Ineffective Incentives Leave NPOESS Program Well Over Budget and Behind Schedule.)
CSW has commented on these developments, see for example:

NPOESS weather and climate satellite crisis: Should heads roll at NOAA?   (05/18/06)

Changing the mission:  NASA Climate Change Science Program budget has been cut by 22% since 2004 (7-22-06)

There are significant differences overall between the House-passed version of the stimulus bill and the one now before the Senate, which represents a compromise the Democratic majority made with the Republican minority to trim about $100 billion in spending from a $900+ billion bill.  The Earth observation provisions, however, do not differ markedly and should be preserved in the House-Senate conference committee and built upon in future appropriations actions. 

For NASA, the House version provides $400 million for “science” of which $250 million is earmarked for research missions deemed critical by the National Academies of Science for keeping tabs on key climate system variables.

Economic stimulus bill provisions for NASA:

The House bill and it’s accompanying House Appropriations Committee report specifies: 

For an additional amount for “Science’‘, $400,000,000, of which not less than $250,000,000 shall be solely for accelerating the development of the tier 1 set of Earth science climate research missions recommended by the National Academies Decadal Survey.

The accompanying legislative report clarifies further:

Science Recovery funding: $400 million

Investments in the areas of Earth science, planetary science, heliophysics and astrophysics seek to answer fundamental questions concerning the ways the Earth’s climate is changing; the comparison of the Earth with other planets in the solar system and around other stars; and the connections among the Sun, Earth and heliosphere. These investments are critically important to understanding climate change and mitigation.

Within the funds provided, not less than $250 million will be used to accelerate the development of the Tier 1 set of Earth science/climate research missions recommended by the National Academies decadal survey as being critically important for answering key Earth science/climate research questions. Funds are also provided to restore the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor to an NPOESS satellite, which measures solar radiation and is critical to understanding climate change; and to add a thermal infrared sensor to the Landsat Continuing Mapper necessary for water management (e.g., soil moisture and water use) particularly in the western states. It is estimated by NASA that these investments will support in excess of 2,600 jobs.

The bill passed by the Senate today includes the following provision, with no accompanying caveats or instructions:

For an additional amount for ‘‘Science’’, $450,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2010.

The plan is for the new generation NPOESS satellites to pick up where the POES satellites leave off, but climate scientists worry that NPOESS will be inferior, from a climate change not a weather forecasting perspective, to its predecessor program, POES, that dates back to 1978. 

The “National Academies decadal survey” referred to in the House language is a seminal 2007 report, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond that lays out remote-sensing priorities for Earth science and urges that “[T]he U.S. government, working in concert with the private sector, academe, the public, and its international partners, should renew its investment in Earth-observing systems and restore its leadership in Earth science and applications.”

We have maintained that NASA’s infatuation with manned missions to the moon, Mars, and even more distant planets under the leadership of Bush appointee Michael Griffin (whom we are glad to see go) made no sense given the urgent need to better understand our own planet Earth and its future habitability.  A new report by Neal Lane (former presidential science advisor) and others at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University echoes this perspective, by recommending that NASA give up (for now) missions to the moon and placing a near-term emphasis on energy and climate concerns.  We couldn’t agree more.  (We will post on their recommendations shortly.)  There is a hint that the Senate is somewhat in agreement:  it proposed $450 million for NASA for exploration,  $50 million less than the House, but raised funding above House levels for both NASA and NOAA climate science programs. 

The funding provided in the stimulus bill only scratches the surface of what is needed to restore a robust, functional capability to observe the many complex and dynamic processes taking place affecting the Earth’s climate system.  From the series of annual Our Changing Planet reports to Congress outlining the interagency federal climate science program, we constructed a budget table to show the dramatic cuts made during Bush’s second term in office:

NASA Budget History for Earth Observations


Fiscal Year……… Actual $ millions…… Constant 2008 $ millions
FY 2001……………….$919.0 ……………….$1,102.3

FY 2002……………….$847.3 ………………$1,000.5

FY 2003……………….$903.1……………….$1,042.6

FY 2004………………$1010.4………………$1,136.2

FY 2005……………… $722.1…………………$785.4

FY 2006……………….$492.9…………………$519.4

FY 2007……………….$673.6…………………$690.1

FY 2008 est………….$666.2…………………$666.2

FY 2009 request……$768.2



Stimulus bill provisions for NOAA

The House bill and it’s accompanying House Appropriations Committee report specifies: 

For an additional amount for ‘‘Procurement, Acquisition and Construction’‘, $600,000,000, for accelerating satellite development and acquisition, acquiring climate sensors and climate modeling capacity, and establishing climate data records: Provided further, That not less than $140,000,000 shall be available for climate data modeling.

The accompanying legislative report clarifies further:

$600 million will address critical requirements in satellite acquisition and development and provide necessary resources to address unmet national climate change research and mitigation activities, including the acquisition of climate sensors on soon-to-be deployed satellites. In addition, funds are provided to address critical gaps in climate modeling, and establish climate data records for continuing research into the cause, effects and ways to mitigate climate change”

The Senate version, as for NASA, has no accompanying caveats or instructions in the bill. 

For an additional amount for “Procurement, Acquisition and Construction”, $645,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2010.

We are told there are substantive differences between the House and Senate in the intended targets for this funding, and that not all of the $645M in the Senate bill would go towards climate science but that some portion would go toward supercomputing and modeling using Earth observation data.  The specifics will be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee. 

NOAA’s role in obtaining, managing, processing, and communicating data from both space-based and surface-based Earth observations is crucial.  A subsequent post will articulate the importance of NOAA’s programs in this area and make the case for a boost in funding commensurate with the need to better understand how Earth’s climate is changing so that we can better prepare ourselves for the future.

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