The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


The Debate Rages On...

Jindal vs. the Volcanoes

A ranger from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park approaches a skylight in a lava tube to measure the levels of hazardous gases being discharged from the opening near Kalapana, Hawai'i. (David Jordan/Associated Press))

By Alec MacGillis
Among the points that provided fodder for critics of Bobby Jindal's much-maligned response to Obama's speech last night was the Louisiana governor's derisive dismissal of stimulus funding for volcano monitoring.

Complained Jindal of the package, "It includes ... $140 million for something called 'volcano monitoring.' Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C."

Many left-leaning bloggers noted that it seemed a bit odd for the governor of a state that was devastated by a hurricane for which the government provided insufficient warning and preparation to be making light of upgrading our capability to guard against another kind of natural disaster. As Matthew Yglesias of the ThinkProgress blog riffed sarcastically: "Look, the Bush administration did a terrible job handling disaster relief at Katrina, so what we need is for the government to just not try at all to stave off these problems. That's just common sense."

As it happens, The Post recently interviewed the official at the U.S. Geological Survey who is helping oversee the volcano-monitoring portion of the $140 million that the Survey received in the stimulus package. David Applegate, the Survey's senior science adviser for earthquake and geologic hazards, said the money will provide for upgrades of seismic monitoring equipment that is too slow in providing information.

"One of our big statutory mandates is to deliver robust information on landslides, and one of the biggest challenges we've got is that a lot of our aging equipment isn't able to to deliver information in real time," he said. "We need to be able to speed up the rate of this information -- minutes and even seconds matter here. This is a big shot in the arm in terms of our ability to monitor these networks."

Applegate noted that the beneficiaries of better monitoring go beyond those who live near volcanoes to include the operators of hydroelectric dams near volcanoes, which could be wiped out by an eruption. Then there are the airlines -- in 1989, a KLM 747 jet flying over Alaska had no warning that it was headed into a cloud of ash from the Redoubt volcano, which had erupted 10 hours earlier. The plane's four engines shut down and it dropped from 27,000 to 13,000 feet before the pilots were able to restart the engines and land in Anchorage.

Science writer Andrea Thompson points to one example where the monitoring saved lives: the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, where the United States had military bases at the time. "The cataclysmic eruption lasted more than 10 hours and sent a cloud of ash as high as 22 miles into the air that grew to more than 300 miles across," she writes. "The USGS spent less than $1.5 million monitoring the volcano and was able to warn of the impending eruption, which allowed authorities to evacuate residents, as well as aircraft and other equipment from U.S. bases there. The USGS estimates that the efforts saved thousands of lives and prevented property losses of at least $250 million (considered a conservative figure)."

For the record, here are the other activities the Survey will be spending its $140 million on: paying private firms to use new airplane-based laser technology to produce a more accurate topographical map of the country, useful for tracking sea level rise and flooding; upgrading buildings such as the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland; and upgrading more of the 7,500 stream gages the agency has around the country to provide water level information to power plant, boats, water treatment agencies and meteorologists.

Matthew Larsen, the survey's associate director for water, and Mark DeMulder, its national map chief, said that the need for both the upgraded mapping technology and upgraded stream gages was driven home by the flooding after Katrina. No word on whether Jindal okays that portion of the spending.

Posted at 5:12 PM ET on Feb 25, 2009  | Category:  The Debate Rages On...
Share This: Technorati talk bubble Technorati | Tag in | Digg This
Previous: Attorney General Reflects on His Visit to Gitmo | Next: Americans Invented What?

Add 44 to Your Site
Be the first to know when there's a new installment of The Trail. This widget is easy to add to your Web site, and it will update every time there's a new entry on The Trail.
Get This Widget >>


Please email us to report offensive comments.

The new GOP parrot POLLY WANTS A CRACKER, POLLY WANTS A CRACKER, CUT TAXES, CUT TAXES {FOR THE TOP 2% } He even looks like a freak, I wonder who wrote his speech, does anyone smell Rove or Drugball after all Drugball says this is the next Reagan.

Posted by: SWAMPYPD | February 26, 2009 10:18 PM

Full disclosure first: I am centrist Democrat who voted for Obama and would do so again.

The subtlety of the "monitoring volcanoes doesn't stimulate the economy and therefore should not be part a 'stimulus' package" argument is lost on many people. The principal reason for this is NOT that the argument isn't true from a certain point of view. It certainly IS true if you're looking for any excuse to obstruct (like some of the GOP) OR if you care about the logic of the argument (like some more thoughtful others of the GOP, or others of non-partisan persuasion, like a number of economists and government watch groups). But that argument, however true it may from a strictly logical point of view, is trumped by a number of factors:

1) Nearly every such project will have its well-informed, earnest, and highly-motivated partisans primed and ready with dissertations full of reasons why the project should proceed, making the Jindals of the nation seem petty and simplistic;
2) The size and contents of the stimulus package result in part from a vast (gargantuan, even) pool of pent-up demand for such (otherwise worthy) projects like monitoring volcanoes. That demand in turn results from Bush 43's monumental indifference and (sometimes) doctrinaire hostility toward such things. Pent-up demand is an almost irresistable force! Lord knows the Congressional Dems couldn't resist it, while the Congressional Repubs, still licking their wounds after the spanking they received in November, were in industrial pout-and-whine mode.
3) It flies in the face of the reasonable argument that spending IS spending and will therefore have a real impact at least in the region where the money is spent.

Whether or not Jindal is right in choosing the "volcano monitoring" example is irrelevant when compared to the apparent tone-deafness of GOP position in general. If you and your fellow-travelers are widely perceived as obstructionists and spoilers, it hardly matters (unfortunately) that you may be right about some details.

Posted by: post_reader_in_wv | February 26, 2009 9:35 PM

If this were the only thing wrong in Bobby's speech it would be bad enough, but he sounded like a child in a social studies class trying to comment on things beyond his ken. So all he could do was recite simplistic tenets of some vague conservative philosophy, and carp at the master's plan, of which he (Bobby) didn't have the faintest comprehension. Pathetic, Bobby, but typical of today's politically bankrupt Republican leadership. Poor Republicans.

Posted by: ejmurphy414 | February 26, 2009 5:40 PM

"I see no reason why we in Illinois should pay to monitor hurricanes. Waste of money. Enough said.

Posted by: StevenB1 "
How much Illinois tax-payer money do you think went to the Katrina recovery effort?

With monitoring we can save lives, critical infrastructure and millions-billions in damages.

What you ought to be concerned with is monitoring the politics in Illinois.

Posted by: JRM2 | February 26, 2009 3:15 PM

What part of SHORT TERM STIMULUS do you not understand? If $140 million would create 140 "volcano monitoring" jobs, wouldn't a QUICKER BOOST to the economy be giving those 140 people a million dollars each?

Posted by: JakeD | February 26, 2009 2:48 PM

Spending money on volcano monitoring is stimulus. Someone has to build the technology being utilized. Someone has to be hired to install and monitor these devices. And we get a useful service out of it that may one day save thousands of lives, which we would not if we used it for, say, more tax breaks that would turn into money people would likely save at this point or pay down debts with, not stimulate the economy.

Posted by: zvelf | February 26, 2009 2:39 PM

I think Gov Jindal's provincial thinking on the magnitude of the volcano problem is rooted in his youth. Everybody expected him to promote his ambition of becoming the GOP candidate in 2010 w/ this opportunity, but I think he failed miserably. He's not ready at all - maybe in 20 years if he can develop and learn to think on a national scope.
Roger Austria

Posted by: rogeraustria | February 26, 2009 1:24 PM

Please consider the following. The equipment that's currently installed and operating is old, continually breaking down, and scientifically outdated in terms of what it can do and what we now know about volcanology. New equipment will provide economic stimulus in several forms: funding for researchers (they have to eat too!), funding for the people who place the equipment, and funding for electronics companies that develop and build the equipment.

Furthermore, the payoff could be tremendous in terms of economic growth. Better monitoring could mean hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives saved, plus the ability to evacuate towns in time to save a good many economic resources. In other words, the stimulus in this case could help prevent economic distress in many ways. Which is more cost-effective: $140 million paid for this research and equipment, or $2 billion for lost lives, machinery, research, etc.?

I hope the people who agree with Gov. Jindal on this issue and others (especially the monetary value of scientific research) will take a little more time to reflect on the consequences of NOT putting money into it. They are far more serious than the cost of the program.

Posted by: dcgrasso1 | February 26, 2009 1:05 PM

This illustrates a common problem with most political people. They love to utter sound bites without any understanding of the real complexities. Unfortunately, this is on both sides and we have a overall uninformed group making decisions on issues they do not understand. If they were to be asked to explain these things they would be at a loss. I'm sure the governor had never read the proposal or asked questions. He was given this red meat by a hired speech writer to inflame his base.

Posted by: ephetsgma | February 26, 2009 11:41 AM

This Jindal Governor from Louisiana wants to reject monies that would go to the unemployed?

Slumdog society in Louisiana? Thanks, Guv.

Posted by: olgaolivia | February 26, 2009 11:34 AM

Re the unemployment benefits part of the stimulus package: Jindal has no problem accepting federal funds, even if they are financed by taxpayers in other states, he just doesn't want his state to pay more to help his state's unemployed. That's sticking by principles? He also has no problem with taxpayers in other states financing hurricane forecasting and repairs of levies (and many other things) in the City of New Orleans, built below sea level. Let those states affected by hurricanes pay for all hurricane-related forecasting and repairs (and those who insist on building on barrier islands and other places prone to hurricane damage sign waivers that they know they are doing something risky-- well, stupid-- and should not accept federal funds.

Posted by: Sutter | February 26, 2009 11:15 AM


Accepting the 1% would have meant making permanent changes to the State's unemployment law, increasing taxes on businesses who have to match that money, and eventually cost MORE than the amount coming from the Feds. I'm glad someone's sticking by his principles against unfunded mandates.

Back on topic:

Monitoring volcanoes totally ruins the surprise. Republicans know that all we need to control volcanoes is to sacrifice a virgin. That is why they support abstinence education.

Posted by: JakeD | February 26, 2009 9:44 AM

This nonsense coming from a governor who derides the economic stimulus bill and says that he has said "no" to it, when, in reality, he is accepting all but about 1% of the money earmarked for the states. Of course the piece that he is rejecting is the money for increased unemployment benefits. What a hypocrite! But, then he is "an American and can do whatever he wants."

Posted by: stano1 | February 26, 2009 9:18 AM

The point Gov. Jindal is making is that this bill was to be an economic stimulus bill. All the asides of pet projects are probably good, but what do they have to do with this economic "crisis", as Pres. Obama has discribed it, and its solution? Was monitoring volcanoes part of the three legged stool to prop up our failing economy? I think not!

Posted by: thehalcombs | February 26, 2009 9:10 AM

Has anyone told Jindal about Mount Rainier? Gorgeous mountain, covered with plenty of snow and ice, hovering three miles above the floodplain that extends from Seattle south past Tacoma -- and well overdue for a nice, big fat explosion. Visualize pyroclastic flow, billions of tons of mud/granite/melted ice heading in the general direction of the sea and a metropolitan area with a million or so folks... you get the idea.

And monitoring mountain this close to the economic hub of the Pacific Northwest is a bad idea because.....????????

Posted by: SGfromMudville | February 25, 2009 11:28 PM

I see no reason why we in Illinois should pay to monitor hurricanes. Waste of money. Enough said.

Posted by: StevenB1 | February 25, 2009 11:25 PM


I'm not missing that point.

Posted by: JakeD | February 25, 2009 10:50 PM

As a New Orleanian who voted for Jindal twice (in 2003, when he lost the Governor's race, and in 2007) it's this Democrat's (and Obama voter's) turn to eat crow in the wake of Piyush Jindal's preposterous national debut last night. Know that many, many New Orleanians are well aware of the federal resources we need to prevent our city from becoming the first global warming casualty. We're just stuck in the same state with beaucoup Bubbas.

Posted by: GentillyGuy | February 25, 2009 9:39 PM

Bobby Jindal is channeling Kenneth from "30 Rock" NBC TV's hit comedy. He sounds just like him and he's just as looney. We just HAD 8 years of tax cuts and "government is the problem" and look where that got us - the worst economic disaster since the Depression. Its politicians like this that prove that Conservatism is simply a cover for selfish and dare I say, nihilists who worship the cult of the individual, community be damned.

Posted by: jackalman | February 25, 2009 9:26 PM

I think the point being missed is that while worthy, it isn't economic stimulus. You can poke fun at Gov. Jindal, but the point that many have made is that the 'Stimulus' Bill was just a big Spending Bill with little oversight.

Yes, it's a good thing to do scientific research on volcanoes and warn people of impending doom. But it's not economic stimulus. There's a better process to get the funding there, and a better way to use the money to help the economy.

Posted by: kolbkl | February 25, 2009 9:08 PM

Hypothetically, let's say 140 people are employed by this program. A better STIMULUS (again, the whole purpose of this bill) would have been to give each of them $1 million that had to be spent on domestic goods.

Posted by: JakeD | February 25, 2009 8:21 PM

Perfect! A parochial governor like Jendal who's state is nearly last (48th) in median income and heavily relies on the Army Corp's of Engineers and heavy government subsidy s to merely keep from drowning -telling us all about Big Bad Government and the true path to prosperity! LOL!

What is truly astonishing is if the GOP muckymucks read his speech, or previewed it, and still let Jendal puke this BS out over the airwaves to the whole nation!

Clueless! But hilarious!

Posted by: plaza04433 | February 25, 2009 8:04 PM

Does anybody here think that volcanos monitor themselves? It takes EMPLOYEES.

Posted by: JRM2 | February 25, 2009 7:28 PM

Whoa! I'm getting nervous what with all of these people the Republicans are trotting out. Why don't they just run Rush because he is the one who is leading them around by their noses. First one to the trough gets the eats. I think Rush has been first to the trough a lot lately. He certainly is full of slop.

Posted by: racam | February 25, 2009 7:26 PM

Regardless of whether this is a good program, $140 million could have been used in much better ways to STIMULATE the economy (remember, that was the alleged goal of the bill?).

Posted by: JakeD | February 25, 2009 7:13 PM

Too bad. That is what happens all the time when a politician (or probably speachwriter) opens his mouth about something he knows nothing about. End of Bobby's aspirations.

Posted by: sniper609 | February 25, 2009 7:07 PM

Then again, since Mt Redoubt (you can see it from Anchorage) is on the "just about to blow" list -- this could be a strategy to ensure a clearer playing field in 2012.

Posted by: BethE | February 25, 2009 6:26 PM

Hey Bobby,
I would think you'd want to warn civilians about any impending natural disasters, wouldn't you?

You know, so the big bad government wouldn't have to send 150b to your state to help with recovery or anything like that.

The same government that last night you claimed was ineffective, oh wait, it wasn't the same government was it?, it was run by conservatives who didn't give a hoot about black democrats.

Posted by: JRM2 | February 25, 2009 6:16 PM

may = my

Posted by: JakeD | February 25, 2009 6:12 PM

You see, about 6 thousand years ago all the volcanos erupted and wiped out the dinosaurs helping man win the great reptile war.
Sarah P.

and that is why volcano monitoring is important Bobby.

Posted by: JRM2 | February 25, 2009 6:12 PM

Typical half-baked neocon nonsense:

1. Take scientific project out of context.
2. Make fun of project.
3. Ignore positive effects of government sponsored resarch on businesses in places like Scandinavia.
4. Hope American voters are stupid enough to keep falling for it.

Posted by: rooster54 | February 25, 2009 5:52 PM

"Joe Versus the Volcano" is may favorite movie!

Posted by: JakeD | February 25, 2009 5:28 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company