A terrible tornado struck Oklahoma earlier this week.
The Governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin is sounding very similar to Chris Christie from New Jersey in calling for Federal assistance. She is saying the FEMA is doing a great job, but Congress is moving much too slowly in authorizing additional aid for those in need as a result of this historically destructive tornado.
The two Senators from Oklahoma were some of those responsible for delaying the aid to Hurricane Sandy victims for two months. Jim Imhofe called the aid to the victims of one of the most destructive hurricanes in our history, a “slush fund” because it included aid for victims outside of New Jersey. His counterpart, Tom Coburn, held up aid for Sandy victims because he insisted that it be balanced by cuts to other spending. When that didn’t happen, he voted against it.
He doesn’t have the same dilemma here because the scope of the damage in Oklahoma can be covered by the existing FEMA $11B budget. But he neglected to say in his comments that he and Jim Imofe voted against the very FEMA funding that he is now suggesting are going to be the source of relief for his storm-ravaged state. He also has gone on record to say that if FEMA disaster recovery funds are exhausted before the end of the federal fiscal year (October), he will again require that any additional funding required to help others recover from any other natural disasters that may occur between now and then will have to be matched by other cuts in spending.
Sequestration which both Imhofe and Coburn supported included an 8.2% cut to the National Weather Service. According to the organization representing weather service employees, that means there is “no way for the agency to maintain around-the-clock operations at its 122 forecasting offices” and also means “people are going to be overworked, they’re going to be tired, they’re going to miss warnings.”
Summarizing the problem, a letter from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce put it bluntly: “The government runs the risk of significantly increasing forecast error, and the government’s ability to warn Americans across the country about high impact weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, will be compromised.”
While the NWS was able to provide 16 minutes notice of the storm which is three minutes more than the average, $24M of the of “slush fund” money authorized for Sandy relief went to the NWS for computer upgrades. Those upgrades will improve forecasting and provide even more notice to those in the path of deadly weather. This funding, however, will only bring us on par with the types of systems Europeans use to forecast dangerous weather. They, for example, were able to forecast the path of Sandy more accurately than the NWS. This is only a fraction of the funding, however, needed to create a state of the art system which, as Oklahoma proved, could save lives.
NOAA also has warned that our weather satellite system is aging. We may be facing a 53 month gap if they fail before they are scheduled to be replaced. The reason for this gap? The Republican-controlled house cut $700B from the NOAA budget in the 2011 debt ceiling shutdown. Those funds were restored earlier this year in the fiscal cliff compromise. Both Imhofe and Coburn voted against the fiscal cliff compromise bill.
Finally, both Coburn and Imhofe are climate change deniers. Coburn said there is, “no hard evidence to support global warming” and that it is “just a lot of crap.” Imhofe wrote a book entitled, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. He supports the Dominion Theory which states that the whole concept of climate change is contrary to the Bible’s statement that God gave man dominion over the whole earth. So human activities can’t be detrimental.
Coburn and Imhofe are two of the top legislators supported by the oil industry.
What’s the moral of the story?
Spending cuts have consequences. Our weather systems are aging. Even though we suffer more deaths and property loss than any other country in the world, other countries have found a way to invest more money in more accurate equipment than the United States.
Private industry, non-profits, churches, and local government CAN’T provide all of the services that citizens need.
Government DOES have a role in the lives of its citizens. Even conservatives are willing to admit this, at least when it is their state or district in need of help.
FEMA when properly staffed and funded CAN effectively respond to natural disasters.
When you cut funding for NOAA and NWS and when you politicize FEMA (as occurred during the Bush administration); people die.
Climate change is real. The number of natural disasters has been increasing dramatically over the past decade. Insurance paid out $35B in claims last year alone. That’s $11B over the average. This is at least one industry that is taking global warming seriously.
Eventually the American people and their representatives will come to the same conclusion.