President Barack Obama's proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration may be endangering the West Coast's ability to cope with the fallout from the Japanese tsunami headed our way. So charged U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell during a grilling of NOAA head Jane Lubchenco.
"My concern is that the president's budget already cuts the existing marine debris program by 25 percent," Cantwell said during a Wednesday subcommittee hearing. "How are you going to be able to deal with this?"
Lubchenco's response was less than reassuring. "I think the cut to this program is going to be a challenge," she conceded. "It is one of the very important programs that in other circumstances we would not have chosen to cut." She added: "We will do the best with what we have."
"That's not a good answer," Cantwell retorted.
It behooves Cantwell, of course, to be seen as aggressively protecting her district. Her office issued a press release on the day of the grilling, with a link attached to video. (See below.)
It's also possible that the senator may be overstating the threat. Previous information released by NOAA suggests that the wreckage from the tsumami might not be as damaging to our state as previously thought. While 25 million pounds of debris swept out to sea, much of it has sunk or dissipated.
Lubchenco, who holds a PhD from Harvard in marine ecology, put the matter in layperson's terms on Wednesday. "It is not a concentrated big batch of stuff anymore," she said.
But she quickly added that "there still is a lot of stuff probably out there" and "it's not clear what impact it's going to be having." The rosiest outcome she could come up with was that the wreckage would be possibly "not devastating."
Probably not a good idea, then, to cut the very NOAA program charged with monitoring the situation.