House Science Committee Passes Bipartisan Weather Bill
“The bill before us today will help us reclaim superior weather prediction and forecasting capabilities. Our citizens deserve this” said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) at last week’s markup of H.R. 1561, “The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2015.”
Lucas made his comments during a thirty minute session of the full House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. The bill was passed by a bipartisan voice vote with no apparent opposition.
H.R. 1561 is very similar to a bill passed by the House last year using a legislative mechanism for noncontroversial bills. Then, as now, the bipartisan nature of the bill was emphasized. Reaching agreement “was not easy” Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said, requiring more than a year of negotiations between committee members and staff.
Three amendments were offered during the committee’s markup. Two made minor and technical changes. The third would have supported agricultural or other sector specific forecasts and was withdrawn by its author, Rep Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). She suggested the committee develop a separate bill to authorize such a program.
The committee made several changes to the previous bill passed by the House and which died at the end of the last Congress. The 24-page bill authorizes, but does not appropriate, funding for Fiscal Years 2015, 2016, and 2017 for the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. H.R. 1561 contains provisions to strengthen coordination between the National Weather Service and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. Subcommittee on Environment Chairman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and Ranking Member Bonamici discussed the bill’s language to encourage the use of data from commercial providers that Bridenstine said would make weather prediction systems more resilient. It is, he said, “critically important” for the role of private data services to be expanded in future predictions, moving away from the current system dependent on a key satellite that could be lost in a launch accident. The bill sends a signal, he explained, to the private sector that the government is interested in buying weather data.
There were no indications when the House might act on this legislation. The House has moved swiftly on several bills the committee has passed and sent to the floor during this Congress. Last year the committee approved the bill on March 21 and it was passed by the House on April 1.