When Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered the official Republican response to President Obama’s speech last night, he blasted elements of the economic stimulus package as “wasteful spending”– among them, “$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.,” Jindal said.
What was that all about? 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.
Bobby Jindal/U.S. Congress via Wikimedia Commons