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Proposed GOP budget cuts target tsunami warning centers

"Tsunami forecast model" map created by the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii predicting the wave height of the tsunami generated by the Japan earthquake AP

The GOP budget plan that passed through the House last month aimed to cut funding for a tsunami warning center that issued a slew of warnings around Japan's devastating earthquake.

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The budget, which proposed about $60 billion in budget cuts, would slash funding for the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That would potentially cripple the effectiveness of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, which issued a series of warnings over the past several days regarding the situation in Japan, where an 8.9 magnitude earthquake triggered a massive tsunami along the nation's east coast. (The PTWC is a part of the National Weather Service, which falls under the umbrella of NOAA - the organization responsible for providing tsunami warnings in the U.S.)

The Republican's proposed "continuing resolution" to fund the government, which was defeated in the Senate this week, aimed to cut $1.2 billion - or 21 percent - of President Obama's proposed budget for NOAA, reports.

In an interview with Hawaii's Star Advertiser last month, Barry Hirshorn, Pacific region chairman of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, warned that the proposed budget cuts could result in the loss of lives.

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"People could die. ... It could be serious," he said, noting that Weather Service employees and employees of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center could be hit with furloughs and closures.

"It would impact our ability to issue warnings," he added.

Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii called the proposed cuts "reckless."

"Drastically reducing the ... ability to forecast weather and alert our communities about imminent, dangerous events is irresponsible," she said.

Dan Sobien, the National Weather Service's union president, said in a statement to Think Progress that GOP cuts would put "considerable stress" on national tsunami monitoring and response capabilities. 

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"NOAA has put together part of a contingency plan to handle such a massive cut and while it spares tsunami buoys, all other coastal buoys are non funded and there will be furloughs at both Tsunami Warning Centers (TWC)," he said. "These furloughs will take away the TWC's ability to upgrade tsunami models and will put considerable stress on watchstanders ability to react."

"While today's disaster is of particular concern to everyone, we are just now entering tornado season and soon will be hurricane season and our organization firmly believes any effort to defund and dismantle our nations early warning system for all disasters is very unwise," he added.

Congress has yet to pass a final budget for fiscal year 2011, and Republicans and Democrats continue to spar over the extent to which domestic programs will be cut.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-WVA and Chairman of Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, is urging Congress not to make significant cuts to NOAA's core weather and essential prediction services in upcoming negotiations over the budget.

"Congress must heed this cruel wakeup call and stop proposed cuts to essential NOAA prediction programs that would endanger lives," he said in a statement Friday. "We must push to make the smart investments in our greatest minds and resources at NOAA so that we can better predict severe weather events and be prepared for the worst."

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