Fox Parrots GOP Attack On Proposed NOAA Climate Service

Blog ››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

In June 2008 the Bush administration endorsed the idea of creating a national Climate Service to compile climate-related research and information currently scattered throughout different departments. According to an Aerospace Daily & Defense Report article from the time (accessed via Nexis), then-NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher said, "We don't have a single authoritative service for climate information" and "there should be a national climate service that provides basic information."

Asked by Congress to assess the need for such an office, a panel of the National Academy of Public Administration concluded in a September 2010 report that it "strongly supports the creation of a Climate Service to be established as a line office within NOAA." The panel, chaired by Michael P. Jackson, who previously served as Bush's Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary, also offered recommendations for the design of the climate service, which would serve as a single entry-point for all those requesting climate data from NOAA.

Now that NOAA under the Obama administration is asking Congress to approve the budget-neutral reorganization necessary to establish a Climate Service, it is meeting with resistance. Echoing House Republicans, Fox Nation posted the headline, "Obama Admin. Caught Setting Up Global Warming 'Propaganda Office'":

Fox nation healine

Fox Nation links to a Washington Times article about a recent House Science Committee hearing on the proposed office, which quotes Rep. Paul C. Broun (R-GA) claiming that the climate service office "sounds a lot like a propaganda office to me." That's where Fox Nation found its headline.

Contrary to speculation that the new office would somehow dictate policy, NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco emphasized during the committee hearing that the "proposed reorganization has nothing to do with cap and trade. It is not regulatory. It is not advocacy":

HULTGREN: What guarantees can you give to this committee that the climate services -- that climate service will not be used to promote such policies that have not been passed by Congress, nor signed into law by the president?

LUBCHENCO: Congressman, thanks for that question. Our proposed reorganization has nothing to do with cap and trade. It is not regulatory. It is not advocacy. Our mission is to provide scientific information and to translate that information into useable data, useable products like weather outlooks, like hurricane forecasts, like drought outlooks, to take those -- that information and provide it to the American public, to the private sector, to state and local managers so that they in turn can use that information to make the best decisions. We don't advocate. We provide information. [House Science Committee, 6/22/11]

Fox Nation seems to equate the term "climate" with "global warming" and information about "global warming" with "propaganda." However, even in the absence of human-induced climate change, NOAA would be tasked with providing forecasts of natural climate variability. Given that humans are pushing the climate to change quickly, the need is even greater for everyone from engineers to insurance companies to emergency services to have good information.

According to NOAA, the reorganization is needed to meet a rapidly growing demand from private and public sector entities for climate data, including information about hurricanes, precipitation, drought and sea level. The Climate Service would be analogous to the National Weather Service, but with forecasts that extend beyond two weeks. NOAA, the Bush administration and the panel of public administration experts (and others) agree that the reorganization would improve the efficiency and quality of NOAA's climate services.

In her testimony, Lubchenco explained the problems with the current organizational structure:

NOAA stakeholders who want access to our information have expressed frustration that they do not know who to go to as we have too many points of entry for climate information. For example, although the Climate Prediction Center produces the seasonal forecasts, information on historical climate is kept at the National Climatic Data Centers. It is reasonable for a stakeholder to include seasonal predictions and trends in a single request to NOAA, but they currently need to go through two different Line Offices to get this information. As another example, coastal managers looking for information on sea level rise will need to work with the National Oceanographic Data Center in the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS) to find the data, the Climate Program Office in OAR and the regional climate services director in the National Climatic Data Center for information on grants and partners, and our labs in OAR, including the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and the Earth System Research Laboratory, for the models that help us understand future sea level trends.

U.S. Navy representative Robert Winokur also said during the hearing that "the current situation of obtaining data from disparate sources makes it a little more complicated for the Navy to get what it needs":

WINOKUR: The Navy needs climate data and if climate service is in fact the best way to provide it to us, then certainly we leave that to a NOAA decision on how best to organize, but we do need a focused approach. The current situation of obtaining data from disparate sources makes it a little more complicated for the Navy to get what it needs. So we would certainly support efficiencies within any agency and if this is the best way for NOAA to provide it, we would support it, but we're not taking an official position on how NOAA should best organize.

[...]

WINOKUR: From a Navy perspective, we would like, frankly, a simple and easy entry point into the organization so that, for example, if we were dealing with disparate parts of NOAA, it facilitates our interaction with NOAA if we can go through a single organizational component, or in the context of data, if you allow me to put it this way, through a single data portal. So rather than for the Navy to go to one part of NOAA or another part of NOAA or frankly to another part of the federal government, it would facilitate our needs for data if we could ease the entry point and work through a single coherent organization. Overall, as I said in my testimony, we do need credible, authoritative information in a timely manner so that we can use that for our future planning.

MCNERNEY: And you think this has an impact on national security?

WINOKUR: I think it would facilitate our ability to obtain data that we need for national security [House Science Committee, 6/22/11]

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