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NOAA should focus on weather, not climate change, says Rep. Lamar Smith

At a budget hearing for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Wednesday, conversation focused on the administration's purpose. And for Chairman Smith, this has nothing to do with climate change.

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    In this Aug. 10, 2010 file photo, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.
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The US House of Representatives subcommittee on environment held a budget hearing Wednesday to discuss the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s funding during fiscal year 2017. NOAA's $5.9 billion request, a $77 million increase from fiscal year 2016, led to greater discussion on the agency's overall purpose in the US government. 

Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, to which the subcommittee on the environment answers, butted heads yet again with NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, questioning the administration’s climate change research. 

The Smith vs. Sullivan feud goes back to last June, when NOAA scientists published a study arguing that a "pause" in global warming never existed. Representative Smith, who disputes the conclusions of almost all of the published, peer-reviewed research that examines humans' role in global warming and who has received over $600,000 in donations from the fossil fuel industry, insisted that the authors fudged the data and subpoenaed NOAA, demanding that all internal communication between the study’s authors be turned over to his committee for examination. Sullivan has since refused, citing the importance of scientific autonomy.   

Smith devoted almost his entire 729-word opening statement what he called NOAA’s biased climate change agenda. NOAA's budget request included $190 million for climate change research: a little more than three percent of the administration’s overall proposed budget. 

“Instead of hyping a climate change agenda, NOAA should focus its efforts on producing sound science and improving methods of data collection,” said Smith. “NOAA should prioritize areas of research that significantly impact Americans today, such as ways to improve weather forecasting. Unfortunately, climate alarmism often takes priority at NOAA.” 

Dr. Sullivan responded that her administration works to protect the US from more than just hail storms. 

“NOAA forecasts help communities prepare and respond to weather events, including the severe storms that swept through Texas last year, tornado events across the mid-west and Florida, and the recent winter storm that struck the Northeast,” writes Dr. Sullivan in her statement. “But the greater demand for our services goes beyond just extreme weather.” 

Besides Chairman Smith, the committee’s 21 other Republican members and 17 Democratic members stayed mum on NOAA’s relationship with climate research at the sparsely attended budget meeting. 

Except for Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Texas, the committee’s ranking member, who backed up Sullivan. 

“It is clear to me that this investigation is unfounded, and it is being driven by ideology and other agendas,” says Johnson. “The majority has asserted, without offering any credible evidence, that NOAA and the climate science community at large are part of some grand conspiracy to falsify data in support of the significant role humans play in climate change. However, the overwhelming body of scientific evidence across many different fields has shown that this is not the case.” 

[Editor's note: The original version of this story has been updated, following objections from Rep. Smith about how the Monitor characterized his views on anthropogenic climate change and the committee hearing itself.

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