Friday, May 6, 2011

Alabama's GOP Delegation Voted Against Funding for Tornado Forecasting

Storm damage in Hueytown, Alabama

U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) spent the better part of two days last week touring areas of his state devastated by killer tornadoes. Bachus was in Tuscaloosa when President Obama toured perhaps the hardest hit area in Alabama. And Bachus issued a somber statement, calling on citizens to come together to help comfort those affected by the storms.

Bachus, however, apparently neglected to mention that he and other Republicans in Alabama's Congressional delegation voted against funding for satellites that are critical for accurate storm forecasting. The Web site reports that Bachus and his fellow Alabama Republicans--Martha Roby, Mo Brooks, Robert Aderholt, Mike Rogers, and Jo Bonner--voted against a bill that would replace aging satellites that are the heart of America's weather-forecasting system.

The ability of those satellites to provide accurate weather information probably saved hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives last week in Alabama. But the satellites need to be replaced, and Alabama Republicans decided that was not necessary--just days before their state was hit with one of the deadliest tornadoes in American history.


On Thursday, as the search for survivors continued in devastated communities across Alabama and other southern states pummeled this week by massive, terrifying tornadoes, President Obama said “we can’t control when or where a terrible storm may strike, but we can control how we respond to it.” Unfortunately, thanks to the spending bill orchestrated by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, he couldn’t say we are doing everything in our power to protect Americans from future extreme weather events.

How important is modern technology in forecasting powerful storms?

The Associated Press characterized the number of fatalities from these storms –more than 340 as of Saturday — as something that “seems out of a bygone era, before Doppler radar and pinpoint satellite forecasts were around to warn communities of severe weather. Residents were told the tornadoes were coming up to 24 minutes ahead of time, but they were just too wide, too powerful and too locked onto populated areas to avoid a horrifying body count.”

It is precisely those “pinpoint satellite forecasts” that Congress, including every GOP member of Alabama’s delegation, decided were luxuries America cannot afford when it passed the continuing resolution to keep the government operating for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Alabama's GOP delegation, it turns out, had other priorities, besides protecting citizens of the state from killer storms:

As we have discussed in previous posts, this action eliminated funding to replace the environmental satellites that help make our forecasts a reality. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has stated in no uncertain terms that these aging satellites will fail, and our failure to buy new ones this year will cause at least an 18 month gap in coverage.

Clearly, Congressional Republicans were more interested in protecting the $5.5 billion in subsidies and foregone royalty payments for Big Oil—which collectively reported a total of more than $30 billion in first quarter profits this week—than they were in spending the $700 million necessary to literally save the lives of their constituents.

By the way, a recent report from the Center for American Progress shows that extreme weather is becoming increasingly costly--both in terms of dollars and lives:

These extreme events included “supercell thunderstorms” in Iowa, severe drought and record wildfires in Texas, and heavy rains across the United States. The recent southeastern storms and tornadoes took at least 297 lives across eight states. And heavy rains in the Mississippi River valley could cause the most severe, damaging floods there in nearly a century.

This extreme weather, though record setting in some places, may be the new normal. Last year, unprecedented extreme weather led to a record number of disaster declarations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The United States and the world were swept by flooding, severe winter storms, heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

Are Spencher Bachus and his fellow Republicans paying attention to the reality of extreme weather? Apparently not. Bachus was quick to issue platitudes to the suffering, but in the following video, you will notice that he makes no mention of his own actions that make Alabamians less safe. In fact, he notes that warnings via the media were critical in saving lives. But he doesn't say that those warnings are made possible by satellite technology, which the GOP refused to support:


Redeye said...

Spencer Bacchus was one of the first ones skinning and grinning when President Obama disemarked in Tuscaloosa. As a matter of fact the republicans pushed the Democrats to the back of the receiving line and based on this report from Facing South black/brown/poor folks are being pushed to the back of the line when it comes to recovery efforts;
Derrick Evans of Turkey Creek Community Initiatives in Mississippi has been in Alabama helping Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen, whose home outside Tuscaloosa was destroyed in an April 27 tornado. In a note posted to Facebook, Evans says the question at this point shouldn't be how hard any particular community was hit, but where is relief failing to flow:

The Answer is: in a very large, buck-shot pattern of isolated, mainly rural, poor black and white communities that are not in or necessarily near the cities of Tuscaloosa or Birmingham.

Anonymous said...

These guys ALWAYS have unique ways of forgetting.

Let me help their memories some:

On January 8, 2006, the LA Times reported, "Reps. John Doolittle and Richard Pombo joined forces with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas to oppose an investigation by federal banking regulators into the affairs of Houston millionaire Charles Hurwitz, documents recently obtained by The Times show." Furthermore, "When the FDIC persisted, Doolittle and Pombo - both considered proteges of DeLay - used their power as members of the House Resources Committee to subpoena the agency's confidential records on the case, including details of the evidence FDIC investigators had compiled on Hurwitz." Consequently, "the investigation was ultimately dropped."

The Times explained "In key aspects, the Hurwitz case follows the pattern of the Abramoff scandal: members of Congress using their offices to do favors for a politically well-connected individual who, in turn, supplies them with campaign funds. Although Washington politicians frequently try to help important constituents and contributors, it is unusual for members of Congress to take direct steps to stymie an ongoing investigation by an agency such as the FDIC."

Anonymous said...

I think sometimes it would be better if Republicans did not vote on safety issues.

Republicans were against volcano warning systems just before a volcano eruption in Alaska.

Republicans voted against funding the NOAA Pacific tsunami warning system, just before Japan got hit by a tsunami.

Now they are against funding tornado warning system before the South got hit by dozens of horrific tornadoes.

sharonsj said...

This brings up a bunch of questions: Did any of the local media covering the devastation bother to mention that their own reps voted against this safety measure? Do these states have any decent systems in place to deal with natural disasters? Finally, as global warming gives us more erratic and violent weather, what's going to happen throughout this country?

I bet that the money needed to warn and help people is going to tax cuts for the rich, and to line the pockets of these politicians and their friends.