Budget Agreement Puts National Climate Service on Ice, For Now

Details are finally emerging about what the 11th hour budget agreement the White House and congressional lawmakers reached late Friday night actually contains, and it appears as if the legislation puts the (temporary) kibosh on a key climate science priority of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco is seeking congressional authorization to shift funds around within the NOAA budget in order to create a new arm of the agency, the National Climate Service. However, the prospects for the new NOAA division look cloudier than they did, say, this time last week.

The National Climate Service is intended to streamline the climate science research and monitoring work that goes on at NOAA. It is also meant to improve the communication of climate information to the public and policy makers at a time when there are increasing needs for climate information. For example, currently NOAA operates the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, North Carolina, which monitors the global climate system. It also operates the Climate Prediction Center, the Office of Atmospheric Research's Earth Systems Research Lab, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and other climate-related groups, many of which are housed within different divisions. (Disclosure: Climate Central works with some of these offices on a variety of climate research and communications projects).

As NOAA explains on its website, the new agency would not regulate greenhouse gases (that would be left to Congress and the U.S. EPA). Instead it would study the climate system and communicate information about it in various ways.

But the new budget agreement — which only covers the remainder of the current fiscal year and ends Sept. 30 — bars NOAA from spending any money on the Climate Service. 

Section 1348 of the bill to implement the budget deal states:

None of the funds made available by this division may be used to implement, establish, or create a NOAA Climate Service as described in the “Draft NOAA Climate Service Strategic Vision and Framework” published at 75 Federal Register 57739 (September 22, 2010) and updated on December 20, 2010: Provided, That this limitation shall expire on September 30, 2011.

That provision does not permanently kill the Climate Service though, since President Obama's Fiscal Year 2012 proposal contains a detailed reorganization plan to establish the new NOAA division. Therefore, it could be passed as part of the FY '12 process. But the prohibition against using funds contained in the FY '11 budget is a clear signal that some people on Capitol Hill resist spending money on climate science in general and on climate change-related programs, in particular.

The Hill has more details on the 2012 spending bill's environmental provisions.