Vote Likely on $172 Million Cut From NOAA Budget

Ocean-research advocates are rallying the troops today to build opposition to a proposed $172 million cut from the 2010 budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as part of debate on the $65 billion Commerce, Justice, and Science spending bill for next year. Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R) and three other Republicans have proposed cutting that money from the NOAA operating account and using it to fund the "State Criminal Alien Assistance Program," which the Obama Administration wants to slash from the budget next year. The program provides federal funds to state and local jails to help them pay for detention of criminals who are undocumented immigrants, and the Obama Administration said it would save $400 million by cutting it from the federal budget.

Obama proposed a $4.5 billion budget for NOAA, and the House passed a budget that would give it $4.6 billion. The bill coming to the floor would fund the agency at $4.8 billion.

Hutchinson's amendment does not specify what operations within the NOAA operating account would get cut. If the amendment passes, it will be up to the Administration to wield the ax. NOAA may decide to keep its core intact and carve into proposed boosts to satellite-research programs and conservation-management programs.

Washington, D.C., advocacy group Ocean Leadership emphasized how the cut might affect climate research, specifically satellite observations, in an alert it sent out today to its supporters:

Demands on NOAA far outstrip its current budget and has resulted in weakened core programs and major infrastructure deficits. This situation significantly jeopardizes the agency's capacity to fulfill growing demands for products, services and information, including those directly contributing to the national effort to address climate change and energy security while ensuring the health and vitality of marine ecosystems.

Specifically, the funding recommended by the Committee is essential to support climate-related observation and monitoring infrastructure necessary to maintain critical coverage and data continuity fundamental to weather and climate forecasts that helps save lives, support businesses and guide policymaking on climate change. The level of concern over the state of this infrastructure was clearly communicated in a recent National Research Council report which stated that the nation's "extraordinary foundation of global observations is a great risk."

Lobbyists worry that the amendment could pass because senators could be hard pressed to be on record voting against a program viewed as tough on illegal immigration.

During deliberations on spending bills, many amendments get dismissed by the leadership, but Ocean Leadership's Peter Hill says that a floor vote on the amendment could occur when the bill comes to the floor for consideration, which is set to begin at 2 p.m. EDT today.