From: John Heilprin, Associated Press
Published June 8, 2007 12:00 AM

Bush Administration Considering Cheaper Ways To Monitor Global Warming

WASHINGTON -- The President George W. Bush administration is considering less expensive options to putting up six new weather satellites equipped to monitor global warming, the White House's science adviser said Thursday.


The administration has been planning to cut back the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, or NPOESS, to four satellites and omitting or downgrading the quality of most global warming monitors on them because of growing costs and technical glitches in the program.


"Our concern here is that we move ahead ... whether they're using the NPOESS approach or some other satellite approach," Jack Marburger told the House Science and Technology subcommittee that oversees the $12.5 billion (euro9.3 billion) project. He said the administration has not ruled out staying with the six-satellite plan.


The dual-purpose satellites are a joint project of the Pentagon, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


The Associated Press reported Monday that NASA and NOAA reports in December and January to the White House recommended fully restoring the program to six satellites and all of the planned global monitoring sensors.


"The recent loss of climate sensors ... places the overall climate program in serious jeopardy," the reports said.


The NASA-NOAA reports to the White House said U.S. climate scientists will now have to rely instead on European satellites to gather data about glaciers, ice caps, sea levels, surface radiation, water vapor, snow cover and atmospheric carbon dioxide.


The project, which dates to 1994, was originally estimated at $6.5 billion. After the costs grew more than 25 percent, the Pentagon recommended putting up only four satellites and eliminating most of their climate data-gathering instruments.


Most of the satellites had been scheduled to launch starting next year to replace aging satellites, but the launches have been delayed to between 2013 and 2026.


Congress's Government Accountability Office said the $12.5 billion price tag assumes only four satellites without the climate sensors will be launched. But it warned that price also is likely to rise if there are continued delays.


"This executive-level footdragging is unacceptable," said David Powner, a GAO technology management specialist.


Marburger said the diminished plans for the satellite system "still satisfies many climate data requirements" even though "the potential impacts to the climate science program continue to raise concerns."


Republican Representative Bob Inglis, in an interview with the AP, said Marburger assured him earlier this week that Bush's opposition to mandatory caps on greenhouse gases is not a factor in the decision-making on the satellites' scientific capability. Inglis acknowledged he had worried about that possibility.


"I want the science to take us wherever it will lead," he said.


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