Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 8:42 PM GMT on June 20, 2005
From the Wichita, KS Eagle:
In several earlier blogs, I discussed that it may soon be illegal for the National Weather Service to issue non-severe weather forecasts under the provisions of the National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005, Senate Bill S.786, introduced April 14 by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. The bill's key provision (Section 2b) states that the National Weather Service cannot provide "a product or service...that is or could be provided by the private sector", with the exception of severe weather forecasts and warnings needed to protect life and property. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez is given sole authority on how to interpret what NWS products and services should be restricted.
Since that discussion, the outcry against this piece of legislation has been widespread; a search for "Santorum National Weather Service" at http://news.google.com reveals a large number of opinion pieces in various news reports, nearly all of them unfavorable to the bill. In particular, many criticized the timing of Santorum's release of the bill, which came 2 days after he received a $2000 donation from Joel Myers, the CEO of Accuweather, at a fundraiser. "I don't think there's any coincidence between the two," Santorum said. "It's just that I happened to have a fundraiser in the town he was in."
Sen. Santorum has been defending the legislation in a number of radio spots broadcast in Pennsylvania the past two months, but has taken substantial criticism in Pennsylvania for the bill. This may be part of the reason that June 2005 polls show him running 15 points behind in his 2006 election campaign against Democratic challenger Robert P. Casey, Jr. Two powerful unions, the National Weather Service Employee's Union and the Aircraft Owner's and Pilot Association, have been active in lobbying against the bill.
So what is likely to happen to the National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005? The bill is still sitting in the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and has no co-sponsor in the Senate. The unpopularity of the bill makes it unlikely that the Committe will act upon the bill anytime soon. The most likely way the bill would make it into law is if Sen. Santorum manages to sneak the bill in as an amendment or rider to some other important piece of legislation. Given that he is the number three man in the Senate leadership, this is a distinct possibility. I will keep you all informed on the situtation and let you know if this happens, when your emails, faxes, and phone calls to oppose the bill will be needed.
It is interesting to note that Congress is working on wording in current legislation to "urge" (but not require) the NWS to not compete with the private sector. The House Science, State, Justice, Commerce and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill for 2006 includes the following language:
"The Committee urges the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service to take maximum advantage of capabilities and services that already exist in the commercial sector to eliminate duplication and maximize the accomplish of the core mission of the National Weather Service."
This is the same language that was adopted by both the House and Senate as part of the report to the 2005 Omnibus Appropriations Bill last November, and seems like a far more reasonable way to foster non-competition between the NWS and the private sector than Sen. Santorum's bill.
One other note--the June 2005 issue of Business 2.0 magazine has an interesting 4-page article about Accuweather titled, "Stormy Weather." The article criticizes Accuweather for its adverserial relationship with the NWS: "And yet, when you ask Myers [Accuweather CEO] to assess the competetive landscape, he still can't seem to focus on the Weather Channel, the upstart company that has taken him to the cleaners. 'Our main competition,' he says, without a hint of irony, 'is the National Weather Service.' " Dr. Myers should heed this advice, and stop wasting everyone's time trying to push legislation to restrict the flow of National Weather Service information. The NWS works pretty well, and the taxpayers are mostly happy with it--so let's leave it alone.
Dr. Jeff Masters
How to oppose The National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005. The National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005 is currently before the Senate Commerce Committee, and will have to make it out of there before the full Senate votes on it. The time to kill this bill is now! Write your Senator if he or she is on the Senate Commerce Committee: http://commerce.senate.gov/about/membership.html
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