From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. --
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal got a schooling from Alaska this afternoon on volcano monitoring. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, sent the rising GOP star a letter criticizing the remarks he made last night in the Republican response to President Barack Obama's speech. (Jindal said that "instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C." You can watch video at the bottom of this post.)
The reviews of Jindal's speech have been pretty harsh, so Begich's letter seems tame in comparison. But the letter gets across what everyone's been thinking: One state's volcano observatory is another state's National Hurricane Center.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, issued a statement to media (full text below) that also defended the importance of volcano monitoring, but says Jindal raises a legitimate question is asking why the funding was included in the economic stimulus bill.
Here's Begich's letter to Jindal:
Dear Governor Jindal:
I write to take issue with your comments on national television last night following President Obama's speech regarding federal spending on volcano monitoring.
Specifically, you listed "volcano monitoring" in a series of projects you consider ''wasteful spending." Volcano monitoring is a matter of life and death in Alaska. The science of volcano monitoring and the money needed to fund it is incredibly important in our state and could
affect the economic well-being of other states and countries because of Alaska's key role in international commerce.
In December 1989, Alaska's Mount Redoubt had a serious eruption that caused a Boeing 747 to lose power in all four engines with hundreds of passengers on board. Fortunately, the aircraft was able to restart and land safely, but damage to the airliner exceeded $80
million. Obviously, had the aircraft not been able to restart its engines, the result would have been catastrophic.
Alaska's largest international airport in Anchorage is one of the world's busiest cargo airports, with more than 600 wide-body cargo jets delivering millions of dollars of goods between Asia, North America and Europe each week. Any interruption of that traffic by a volcanic eruption could be felt in Tokyo, New York or even Baton Rouge.
Currently, the Alaska Volcano Observatory monitors 31 active Alaskan volcanoes and works closely with other federal , state and municipal agencies to ensure public safety and minimize disruptions. Eruptions often spew curtains of ash miles into the air that impact
communities hundreds of miles downwind, causing severe health consequences for our citizens. When there is a significant eruption, those with respiratory challenges must stay indoors.
For Alaska and our country, monitoring volcanoes is important business. The more we know about what might happen, the better our citizens and industries can plan for the potential hazard. Feel free to contact my office so we can provide you with further information regarding this important subject.
Statement of Sen. Murkowski responding to Gov. Jindal’s Republican address:
It is absolutely appropriate for our federal government to spend money on volcano monitoring. A current example is Mount Redoubt. This active volcano, which is on the flight path into Anchorage International Airport, the third busiest cargo airport in the world, and Elmendorf Air Force Base, has been smoldering since the end of January. The Alaska Volcano Observatory has been on 24 hour watch since then.
A volcanic eruption at Mount Redoubt has the potential to bring down a jumbo aircraft flying over Southcentral Alaska. Alaskans vividly remember that volcanic ash from an eruption of Mount Redoubt nearly brought down a KLM Boeing 747 as it was completing its flight from Amsterdam to Anchorage in December 1989. The volcanic ash caused the failure of all four engines on the jumbo jet.
It is understandable that citizens in the Lower 48 may not be familiar with our many active volcanoes in Alaska and how devastating they can be to our state and its citizens. In many ways, it is the same kind of danger caused from Mother Nature that the Gulf states face from hurricanes or all coastal communities face from a tsunami.
However, Governor Jindal raised a legitimate question last evening about whether it is appropriate to fund volcano monitoring in legislation that purported to stimulate the economy and create jobs for unemployed Americans. One of my key criticisms of the economic stimulus bill is that it turned into a supplemental appropriations bill, rather than a targeted approach to stimulate the economy.
Here are Jindal's remarks: