The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Wasteful spending on volcano monitoring?

I did not watch President Obama’s State of the Union Address, but the geoblogosphere is abuzz about something Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal had in his Republican Party response:

But Democratic leaders in Congress — they rejected this approach. Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money, they passed the largest government spending bill in history, with a price tag of more than $1 trillion with interest. While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. [This includes] $140 million for something called “volcano monitoring.” Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.

That was a rather clueless statement. Has he never heard of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, or other major Cascade Range volcanoes, each of which is capable of killing hundreds or thousands of people, and causing hundreds of millions or multiple billions of dollars of damage? Or the threat of volcanoes in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to aviation? Or the even greater, though more remote, threat of giant calderas such as Long Valley in California, or Yellowstone? We can debate about the budget for “volcano monitoring” but to put it in the category of “wasteful spending” as Jindal did is just plain ignorance.

Perhaps we should axe the National Weather Service’s budget for tracking tropical storms. After all, who would ever need to know that a hurricane was about to hit, ummm… Louisiana.

HT: This is in many places in the geoblogosphere. The Volcanism Blog has a list of geobloggers who have commented on this.

Grace and Peace

P.S. Here are two useful articles:

Scientific American: Bobby Jindal and volcano monitoring: What was he talking about?

Fox News: Geologist Erupts at Jindal’s Volcano Question

Volcano monitoring likely saved many lives — and significant money — in the case of the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines (where the United States had military bases at the time), according to the USGS. The cataclysmic eruption lasted more than 10 hours and sent a cloud of ash as high as 22 miles into the air that grew to more than 300 miles across. The USGS spent less than $1.5 million monitoring the volcano and was able to warn of the impending eruption, which allowed authorities to evacuate residents, as well as aircraft and other equipment from U.S. bases there. The USGS estimates that the efforts saved thousands of lives and prevented property losses of at least $250 million (considered a conservative figure). [emphasis added]

February 25, 2009 - Posted by | Geology | ,

11 Comments »

  1. […] from The Dynamic Earth. ‘Something called volcano monitoring’ from Geology News. ‘Wasteful spending on volcano monitoring?’ from The GeoChristian. ‘The stimulating effect of monitoring volcanoes’ from Green […]

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    Pingback by Something called ‘volcano monitoring’ « The Volcanism Blog | February 26, 2009

  2. Volcanoes are a major threat in Alaska. There is one simmering now at risk of erupting. However, I’m sure Gov. Palin will reject this money for use in Alaska. She may even consider selling the volcano on ebay.

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    Comment by L. Bowman, Elkins Park, Pa. | February 26, 2009

  3. Volcano monitoring huh? Well I guess it’s pretty important since it might cause severe casualties when one erupts. But isn’t $140M too much? Don’t they just monitor it’s seismic activity to see if a volcano is starting to be active? Putting money for that is not a problem, but it’s proper if they would just place ENOUGH budget for that.

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    Comment by Phil credit | February 26, 2009

  4. I’m all for monitoring volcanoes, but let’s not pretend that it has anything to do with the purpose of the “stimulus” bill. Put the additional funds for monitoring volcanoes into either their own bill, or as part of the larger and more carefully considered budget bill. Then there can be some solid (relatively) decision making on how much, how, and where the funds should be spent.

    A lady at my church works for the National Weather Service in their finance department. They are getting a ton of money and are required to spend it. They don’t have anything planned for how to spend it, and so they very quickly got a wish-list from the various department heads (the list had to be submitted back to finance by the end of the day it was sent to the heads) and apportioned the money to be spent on those lists.

    There’s no way on earth that it was an even close to efficient or even very beneficial use of the funds. She said that she noticed that several of the items in the lists were things like new chairs for the department, when they had just gotten new chairs the previous year.

    I don’t know that the money will be treated in the exact same way by the services which monitor and track volcanoes, but I strongly suspect that it will be. Regardless of the fact that volcano monitoring is a very valuable and necessary thing that needs to be funded, the funds in the stimulus bill for the monitoring is still wasteful pork.

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    Comment by WebMonk | February 26, 2009

  5. In regards to the expense of volcano monitoring, here’s what someone had to say on the Affiliation of Christian Geologists e-mail list this morning:

    “Not only did Jindal deliver the speech clumsily, he picked absolutely the worst possible example in the whole stimulus bill to ridicule – volcano monitoring. $140 million to upgrade existing systems in Alaska, Hawaii, and the Cascades is dirt cheap. If a single airliner goes down because the engines stall from an ash plume out of an Aleutian volcano, it will cost more than $140 million to replace the plane and compensate the victims’ families. Even a paltry lahar from Mount Rainier will do more damage.”

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    Comment by geochristian | February 26, 2009

  6. from Fox News: Geologist Erupts at Jindal’s Volcano Question

    Volcano monitoring likely saved many lives — and significant money — in the case of the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines (where the United States had military bases at the time), according to the USGS. The cataclysmic eruption lasted more than 10 hours and sent a cloud of ash as high as 22 miles into the air that grew to more than 300 miles across. The USGS spent less than $1.5 million monitoring the volcano and was able to warn of the impending eruption, which allowed authorities to evacuate residents, as well as aircraft and other equipment from U.S. bases there. The USGS estimates that the efforts saved thousands of lives and prevented property losses of at least $250 million (considered a conservative figure). [emphasis added]

    Like

    Comment by geochristian | February 26, 2009

  7. While I understand your perturbation, I find it humorous that nobody wants to see wasteful spending, but NOBODY is going to offer their pet issues to the axe.

    Sorry folks, but I’m with Web-monk on this one. This shouldn’t be in a stimulous package, and the only reason it is, is because the sponsor who added it to the spending bill knew it would pass. If it’s a good idea, then it should pass on its own merits and not need to popular push of a free spending package.

    Then there’s the disengenuous nature of the spending. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the purpose of the spending package was stimulate TODAY’s ecomony. While these monitoring stations are necessary and good, it’s going to take years for the planning, building and implementing to take place; years for the majority of the money to change hands (unless the USGS is planning on buying chairs like the NWS); years for the new jobs to be established. By then $150 million of pork won’t make any difference to Sprint employees who lost their job this month.

    No, I’m afraid I agree with Governor Jindal, this isn’t the time or place for it.

    Like

    Comment by Matt Strid | February 26, 2009

  8. What I’m bothered by is Jindal’s assertion that to spend money on volcano monitoring is wasteful. As governor of Louisiana, he should know something about natural disasters.

    Perhaps this stimulus package wasn’t the right place to put this spending, but his anti-science attitude is all too common in the Republican Party (and I usually vote Republican!).

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    Comment by geochristian | February 26, 2009

  9. Areas of focus – if it had been $140 million for hurricane studies or preparation, then Jindal would have been all for it, but because he doesn’t have any volcanoes in his back yard and there haven’t been any widely publicized volcano disasters, then he could very possibly think volcano funding isn’t of value.

    In one sense, his statement is part of the problem with this method of spending. There was absolutely zero discussion of the where/how/why of volcano monitoring when this was passed, and so no one knows anything about it. All that is seen is that in a bill intended for job creation, there’s a big old chunk of money heading out somewhere that has nothing to do with jobs. That’s a Bad Thing, even if the recipients of the money are doing a worthwhile thing.

    That doesn’t excuse Jindal’s ignorance, though. His speech was prepared well ahead of time and there are dozens of much better examples of pork spending in the stimulus package than the volcano funding. A bare modicum of research or attention should have caught that.

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    Comment by WebMonk | February 26, 2009

  10. Whoo – caching issues. This was listed to be comment number five. Sorry. File that post in the “never mind” category.

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    Comment by WebMonk | February 26, 2009

  11. All that is seen is that in a bill intended for job creation, there’s a big old chunk of money heading out somewhere that has nothing to do with jobs.

    I don’t know about that. See Volcano Monitoring and the Stimulus: Cost Effective and a Clear Public Good. He touches on a number of issues, but just in terms of stimulus concerns:

    This isn’t money for the program as a whole, or for things like salaries that are going to be an ongoing expense. This is money that’s going to be used to improve the infrastructure that the volcano monitoring system uses [as well as a number of other USGS projects – earthquake monitoring, stream gages, etc.]. It’s money to replace older equipment with newer, and to do things like repair the buildings that are used. It’s going toward infrequent expenses, and it will go back into the economy in the form of purchases from equipment vendors and payments to contractors. In the short term, it’s the government acting as a consumer when citizens are reluctant to spend. In the long term, it’s buying us a better volcano monitoring system – basically, we’re spending the money on something that we have a use for.

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    Comment by Dan S. | February 26, 2009


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