Cuts could cripple US tsunami warning: Official
Washington (AFP) March 17, 2011
US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke warned Thursday that deep spending cuts sought by the White House's Republican foes could cripple the country's abilities to monitor tsunamis or severe weather.
"Just from a math level, there's no way that we can avoid compromising the programs that safeguard our country -- we're going to have to make some very, very tough choices," Locke told a key House of Representatives panel.
Locke said that a House-passed Republican funding measure for the rest of the year, which slashes some 61 billion dollars overall, would leave some critical programs starved for cash.
"We can always try to prioritize, and we'll try to be as efficient as possible, but you just can't avoid the math," he told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.
"If we were going to keep all the tsunami programs intact we'd have to make those cuts elsewhere, whether it's in hurricane forecasting, or ocean navigation for ships," or other programs, Locke warned lawmakers.
Locke said that the US alert system for the giant waves relied on a web of 39 buoys in the Pacific Ocean, seven of which were currently offline for maintenance, as well as research centers and analysis stations.
Democrats have seized on the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan last week to argue that Republican cuts risk crippling the US government's ability to warn of coming disasters like giant waves or major storms.
Locke said the cuts, which stood virtually no chance of clearing the Democratic-held Senate, would slice some 16 percent from the part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's budget that covers tsunami warnings.
He also warned that the United States would face a gap in replacing its aging Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), which he called "the backbone" of all US National Weather Service forecasts beyond 48 hours.
Locke said the current system allows officials to predict severe weather seven days ahead, but the gap could erode that to 3-5 days.
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