PART 7 - THE WEATHER MODIFICATION RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER AUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2005
Weather modification discussion of November 10, 2005
This is Part 7 of the article: Appendix. Prepared statements of Hon. E Benjamin Nelson and Dr. Donald Wilhite. Letter by John Marburger.
(The article has been cut up in 8 parts due to email technicalities that have to do with gmail.
PREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. E. BENJAMIN NELSON, U.S. SENATOR FROM NEBRASKA
Due to the short notice of the scheduling of the Joint Subcommittee hearing on S. 517, ‘‘The Weather Modification Research and Technology Transfer Authorization Act of 2005,’’ I am unable to attend the hearing today. This is an important issue and I regret not being able to reschedule prior commitments in order to be there.
However, I did want to take the opportunity, as we discuss weather modification, to highlight an area of research that is happening at the University of Nebraska related to drought mitigation. While the focus of this hearing is weather modification, I believe it is relevant to address another aspect important to this area of research, which is adequate monitoring of weather patterns so that we may appropriately respond to and mitigate the effects of adverse weather.
The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), located at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was established in 1995 and performs a number of activities of importance to Nebraska, the region, and the Nation. Its functions include maintaining a web-based information clearinghouse, drought monitoring, the preparation of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor (which covers all 50 states), the development of drought policy and planning techniques, collaborative research on improved decision tools for agricultural producers and natural resource managers, and outreach and training workshops for Federal, State, and foreign governments and organizations.
The NDMC has worked with most states in the development of drought mitigation and response plans aimed at reducing vulnerability to episodes of severe drought. The NDMC has worked closely with the Western Governors’ Association and NOAA in formulating the proposal for a National Integrated Drought Information System. This system is currently being implemented by NOAA with the assistance of the NDMC.
With this statement, I am submitting a statement from Dr. Donald Wilhite, Director of the NDMC, which details more fully the work they are doing at the University of Nebraska. I believe the research that is being conducted there is critical to our ability to respond to the devastating effects of drought.
This research is especially relevant to Nebraska and other Plains states right now, which have been experiencing drought conditions for several years; but the research done by the NDMC has a national benefit. Droughts have plagued all regions of the country over the past 10 years and many parts of the West have been in drought for 5 to 7 years. They are often slow in developing, but the costs and indirect effects have a substantial impact on water supplies, agriculture, energy production, natural resources, recreation and tourism, transportation, development, and the environment.
The effect of drought in recent years in my state has been devastating. Its impact has been felt throughout the economy of Nebraska. While drought typically does not produce dramatic news footage like a hurricane or tornado will, it is nonetheless, a disaster.
I believe it is crucial to encourage more investment in research in programs such as the NDMC. The research done upfront in monitoring drought trends will help our capabilities to mitigate and respond to its effects in a much more effective manner. I am hopeful that we can hold a hearing on drought in the Disaster Prevention and Prediction Subcommittee next year. This is an important issue that I believe warrants more discussion.
PREPARED STATEMENT OF DR. DONALD WILHITE, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL DROUGHT MITIGATION CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA-LINCOLN
I appreciate the opportunity to submit this statement on behalf of the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), which is located at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Climate variability is an important issue that affects everyone across the United States. This is true whether it is related to heating bills for the upcoming winter; to El Nino or La Nina events that might cause flooding or drought; or the frequency of natural hazards striking our Nation, like the numerous hurricanes during the past two years. The truth is that drought is one of the costliest hazards to affect the country: FEMA has estimated that the annual losses due to drought are approximately $8 billion, which is a higher estimate than for any other natural hazard. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma may change that placement slightly, but drought remains a serious threat across the United States. The impacts resulting from drought are complex, and as our vulnerability to droughts changes with the shifting pressures on the Nation’s finite water resources, impacts due to drought may increase in the future.
I would like to emphasize that drought is a normal part of the climate across the United States. At any given time, approximately 14 percent of the Nation is in severe drought or worse. It is also important to note that multiple-year events (like the 1930s and 1950s, and the 1960s along the East Coast) are not unusual events in the paleo-climate record. For this reason, we need to be prepared for droughts, and focus our attention on mitigation and planning strategies that would reduce drought impacts before droughts strike.
The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) was formed in 1995. At that time, there was no national initiative or program that focused on drought monitoring, mitigation, and preparedness and the Nation was just coming out of a period of serious drought lasting from 1988 to 1994. I have been involved in drought-related research and outreach since 1980, and the formation of the NDMC developed out of a national conference on drought that I organized in 1994. During the first year, our funding came from both NOAA and USDA. Since then, the NDMC’s base operating budget is provided through USDA and supplemented by numerous grants from NOAA, NSF, NASA, USGS, BoR, and other USDA agencies.
The NDMC’s program is directed at lessening societal vulnerability to drought through a risk-based management approach. The NDMC’s activities include promoting and conducting research and outreach activities on drought monitoring, mitigation, and preparedness technologies; improving coordination of drought-related activities and actions within and between levels of government; and assisting in the development, dissemination, and implementation of appropriate mitigation and preparedness technologies in the public and private sectors. Emphasis is placed on research and outreach projects and mitigation/management strategies and programs that stress risk management measures rather than reactive, crisis management actions.
After the NDMC formed, a severe drought struck the Southern Plains and South- western United States in 1995–96. Beginning in 1999, the Nation has experienced another series of drought events. These droughts peaked in 2000 and 2002, when close to 40 percent of the Nation was considered to be in severe drought or worse. At the end of July 2002, all 50 states were experiencing some level of dryness or drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. For states in the West (Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Colorado), the drought became a multiple- year event that continues in some of these locations. For states in the Southeast (Georgia and South Carolina, for example), an unprecedented five-year drought took place between 1998 and 2002.
Even during 2005, when the percent area of the country experiencing serious drought fell below that of previous years, an extreme drought spread over parts of Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas. For some locations, the summer was one of the driest ever. At a few other locations, 2005 is on pace to be the driest year on record, surpassing even the dryness experienced during the famous drought years of the 1930s and 1950s. The area in drought in 2005 included a portion of the Nation’s Corn Belt. Estimates of crop losses for Illinois originally totaled $1.3 billion, but recent estimates have improved that number to approximately $0.7 billion, mainly in the northern and central parts of the state. These drought losses could have been much worse without the well-timed moisture remnants moving across the area as a result of several of the hurricanes that struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. The last big drought to hit the Corn Belt hard was in 1988, with estimated crop production-related losses of approximately $15 billion. We narrowly dodged a huge bullet in 2005.
Through these recent droughts, the NDMC has continued to work across the country on its mission. The NDMC maintains its involvement in drought monitoring through the U.S. Drought Monitor map, which is a weekly assessment of the current drought conditions. Two of the NDMC staff, Mark Svoboda and Michael Hayes, serve as authors for this product, along with partners at NOAA and USDA. The NDMC also participates in the monthly North American Drought Monitor, which includes collaboration with Canadian and Mexican scientists. Several countries and regions around the world have expressed interest in adopting the Drought Monitor format to assess drought conditions. The NDMC has been involved in a NATO project with the Czech Republic to investigate drought monitoring opportunities in Central Europe. In November 2005, the NDMC, NOAA, and USDA will be participating in a bilateral workshop with the Chinese Meteorological Agency on drought monitoring strategies for China.
The NDMC is continuing to conduct research in the broadly defined areas of drought monitoring, mitigation, and planning. We continue to work with NOAA and the Western Governors’ Association on the implementation of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). The NDMC recently launched a new web-based product directed at development of a web-based drought impacts tool to help NOAA, USDA, and other agencies determine the impacts associated with drought in a timely manner. The NDMC has a proposal pending with NOAA to further support this activity.
In terms of outreach, education, and training, the NDMC continues to maintain and improve its website (drought.unl.edu) and the U.S. Drought Monitor website. These two sites resulted in more than 12 million hits in 2005. We organized and conducted three drought workshops during 2005 and participated in many other workshops and conferences throughout the United States and internationally. The Center continues to assist other states and local governments in the development or revision of drought plans. Thirty-eight states now have drought response or mitigation plans in place, largely through the efforts of the NDMC.
In summary, the NDMC strongly supports more research and development to in- vestigate issues of climate variability, natural hazards, and drought. Our experience with drought is that, in the long run, by making a wise initial investment, the Nation will save money by improving our capability for drought monitoring, mitigation, and response. Initial investments like these will reduce the adverse affects of future climate events on our Nation.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT, OFFICE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY POLICY
Washington, DC, December 13, 2005
Hon. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON,
Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space, Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Washington, DC.
Dear Senator Hutchison:
This letter is in response to S. 517, ‘‘the Weather Modification Research and Development Policy Authorization Act of 2005,’’ reported out by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on November 17, 2005 (Senate Report No. 109–202). While the Administration recognizes the Committee’s interest in weather modification research and development, there is a host of issues—including liability, foreign policy, and national security concerns—that arose in the past and should be adequately considered before the U.S. Government undertakes the coordinated national research program this legislation would require.
The Administration respectfully requests that you defer further consideration of the bill pending the outcome of an inter-agency discussion of these issues that the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) would coordinate—with the Department of Justice on legal issues, with the Department of State on foreign policy implications, with the Departments of Defense and State on national security implications, and with pertinent research agencies to consider the reasons the U.S. Government previously halted its work in this area. At the conclusion of this review, the Administration would report back to you on the results of these discussions so you are fully apprised of all possible issues associated with authorizing a new Federal program on this topic.
Specifically, the Administration believes concerns in the following areas must be better understood:
Local Political & Legal Ramifications
—Because small scale weather modification (e.g., cloud seeding) may promote rain in one area to the detriment of another, weather modification could result in inter-state (including Indian Tribes) litigation or private citizen litigation against the modification programs.
—The legal and liability issues pertaining to weather modification, and the po- tential adverse consequences on life, property, and water resource availability
resulting from weather modification activities, must be considered fully before the U.S. Government could take responsibility for this new research program.
International and Foreign Policy Implications
—Small and large scale (e.g., hurricane) weather modification efforts could benefit the United States to the detriment of other countries (such as Canada or Mexico).
—Given global weather patterns, whether one country ‘‘owns’’ its weather so as to assert intra-border control with extra-border consequences, must be consid- ered under present international conventions.
—The manner in which such a program could benefit or harm the present U.S. positions on foreign policy matters, such as global warming/climate change, should also be considered.
National Security Implications
—The U.S. Government’s previous weather modification programs were part of
our Cold War history; restarting them today could promote (possibly hostile) foreign responses.
—In 1978, the United States became a party to an international treaty banning the use of weather modification for hostile purposes. While modification for peaceful purposes is allowed, whether well-intentioned programs could be considered ‘‘hostile’’ and perceived to violate this ban should be considered.
—The Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) primary atmospheric and meteorological research focus is on improving weather forecasting, which has proven to save lives and property. NOAA abandoned weather modification activities some time ago in favor of other research areas that more directly relate to the agency’s core mission and responsibilities.
—Redirecting funding to focus on weather modification can shift funds away from other important programs such as research to improve weather forecasting capabilities for severe weather events and research to better understand climate variability and change.
In addition to discussing these concerns on an interagency basis, and in recognition of your interest in this area, OSTP would be willing to charter a study to address the above issues. This study would be conducted by the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI), a federally-chartered research and development center that provides objective, technical advice to OSTP. The study would address the history and current status of weather modification research. Such a study will help us understand the technical position of this field of science, the significance of the issues discussed above, and the field’s historical context.
The Administration requests that you not move forward with your legislative proposal until a better understanding can be developed of the full range of possible implications.
Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely,
JOHN H. MARBURGER, III,
(Go to Part 8.)