Imagine a future scenario in Houston, Texas.
Twelve-year-old Rick arrives home, breathless. “Mom, people are evacuating. The hurricane will be worse than Harvey.”
“You sure, Rick? Your father’s boss gets PanasonicWeather Channel. It’ll just be a tropical storm by the time it reaches us.”
“My friend says it’s all over the news on AccuWeather Channel.”
“Don!” Sarah calls out to her husband, tinkering in the garage. “We’ve gotta evacuate.”
Don emerges from the garage, wiping grease from his hands. “Where did you hear that?”
“I told you we should’ve signed up for AccuWeather.” Sarah glared at her husband. “Your stupid Sports Channel is all that matters.” She turned to Rick. “Get your sister. We’re going to your aunt in Austin.”
“You’re being paranoid,” Don told his wife.
Such a future becomes possible when Congress approves the latest nominations to the two top positions at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s office of the National Weather Service (NWS) provides us with weather, water, and climate data, forecasts, and warnings vital to the protection of our lives, property, and economy. Six NWS regional offices “manage all operational and scientific meteorological, hydrologic, and oceanographic programs of the region… They monitor these services and adjust resources to provide the most effective weather and warning services possible.”
The nominee for Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans & Atmosphere and Administrator of NOAA is Barry Myers, the CEO of AccuWeather. Using NOAA’s weather data and products, Barry Myers runs a profitable business of delivering them in a proprietary format attractive to its customers. In 2005, with the assistance of their State Senator Rick Santorum (Pennsylvania), AccuWeather sought to pass legislation that would reduce NOAA’s ability to distribute its weather data directly to the public.
In a statement introducing the bill, Santorum said: “It is not an easy prospect for a business to attract advertisers, subscribers or investors when the government is providing similar products and services for free.”
More recently in May 2016, Senator Jim Bridenstine (Oklahoma) proposed legislation that would prohibit the National Weather Service from providing any new services that the private commercial weather sector already offers or can potentially offer. At that congressional hearing, AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers joined four other industry representatives to brief Congress on the state of forecasting and technology in the commercial weather sector.
Here enters Panasonic Weather Solutions. Dr. Neil Jacobs—nominee for the second top position as Assistant Secretary for Environmental Observation & Prediction and Assistant Administrator for NOAA Satellite & Information Services—is their Chief Atmospheric Scientist. Like Barry Myers, Jacobs wants a greater role for the private sector in weather forecasting. In November 2015, his company signed an agreement to supply its advanced global aircraft weather data to NOAA with the aim of improving forecasts from models run by the NWS.
Testifying before the House of Science Committee in July 2017, Dr. Jacobs asserted that “a private company like Panasonic can move more quickly than NOAA in improving its models and processes, because it does not have to go through the years of quality and reliability testing that NOAA requires when implementing major model upgrades.”
While we focus on our president’s outrageous tweets and the latest natural disaster or sex abuse scandal, our Negotiator-in-Chief and his corporate-backed team creep forward with their scheme to defund our government, deregulate private industries, and privatize services of our public agencies critical to our health and safety.
To learn more, read the October 12th article “Conflicts of Interest? NOAA’s Nominees AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers and Dr. Neil Jacobs of Panasonic” by Andrew Rosenberg, director of the UCS Center for Science and Democracy and former NOAA scientist and manager.