A common conservative tactic is to misrepresent legitimate government spending in a way that might sound absurd until the facts are reviewed. We saw this in attacks on science spending by John McCain and Sarah Palin both during and after the 2008 campaign. Bobby Jindal used similar tactics in his response to Obama’s speech last night. Jindal mocked volcano monitoring but there is true value to this:
The $140 million to which Jindal referred is actually for a number of projects conducted by the United States Geological Survey, including volcano monitoring. This monitoring is aimed at helping geologists understand the inner workings of volcanoes as well as providing warnings of impending eruptions, in the United States and in active areas around the world where U.S. military bases are located.
Most of the money from the stimulus bill earmarked for monitoring (only about a tenth of the total going to the USGS) will go to modernizing existing monitoring equipment, including switching from analog to digital and installing GPS networks that can measure ground movements, said John Eichelberger, program coordinator for the USGS’s Volcano Hazards Program. Much of the expense of this technology comes from the manpower required to make and install it, he added.
“Ultimately most of this creates jobs or saves jobs that would have been lost” to recent budget shortfalls Eichelberger told LiveScience.
When he heard Jindal’s remarks, Eichelberger said he “was frankly astonished” that the governor would use this particular example, given his own state’s recent brush with a catastrophic natural disaster.
More response at Scientific American:
Well, Congress authorized some of that $140 million to be spent on volcano monitoring, but not all of it, ProPublica notes in a blow-by-blow of the economic recovery package. That line, ProPublica says, is directed to “U.S. Geological Survey facilities and equipment, including stream gages, seismic and volcano monitoring systems and national map activities.”
Critics writing in The New Republic and elsewhere say Jindal’s jab at volcano monitoring was disingenuous. The USGS is charged with working to “reduce the vulnerability of the people and areas most at risk from natural hazards,” including volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and wildfires which it says cost hundreds of lives and billions of dollars annually in disaster money. Between 50 and 70 volcanoes erupt each year, according to the Smithsonian’s global volcanism program. And between 1980 and 1990, they killed at least 26,000 people and caused 450,000 people to flee their homes, the USGS says. “Why does Bobby Jindal think monitoring volcanoes is a bad thing for the government to be doing?” Nick Baumann writes in Mother Jones. “There doesn’t seem to be any immediate way for private enterprise to profit from monitoring volcanoes (maybe selling volcano insurance?), but there is obviously a huge public benefit from making sure volcanoes are monitored: warning people if a volcano is going to erupt. Isn’t that obvious?”
The USGS recently predicted that Mount Redoubt in Alaska is rumbling and expected to blow. Check out our guide to volcanoes for more, and read about what causes a volcano to erupt in our Ask the Experts piece. See another post for more on Jindal’s response to Obama’s speech, including Jindal’s comments on the salt marsh harvest mouse.
Jindal’s science might be expected from Kenneth the Page (who he has commonly been compared to after his disastrous rebuttal) but not from an up and coming political leader.
The Anchorage Daily News provides a full run down of response to this comment.
> What was Jindal talking about? (Scientific American)
> Governor of hurricane-threatened state shouldn’t belittle volcano monitoring (Chicago Tribune politics blog): “If anyone should understand the risk nature can represent to large population centers, it’s a Louisiana governor.”
> Jindal vs. the volcano (Talking Points Memo): “The potential argument that volcanic monitoring has no relevance when it comes to saving American lives and property is baseless.”
> Jindal a volcano-watcher hater (Alaska Dispatch): “What’s really puzzling is his hostility to our own Alaska Volcano Observatory, which Republican Ted Stevens worked hard to get for us.”
> Government’s role in natural disasters (Paul Krugman blog, The New York Times): “Does (Jindal) really think that the response to natural disasters like Katrina is best undertaken by uncoordinated private action? Hey, why bother having an army? Let’s just rely on self-defense by armed citizens.”
> What the stimulus bill really says about volcano monitoring (Questionable Authority blog): “Volcano monitoring … is clearly not the only thing that’s being funded (with the $140 million). Jindal was clearly ignoring the truth in his attempt to paint the bill in the worst light possible.”
> What is volcano monitoring? Where are U.S. volcanoes? (Live Science)