Lawmakers mull changes to federal climate data sharing

Multiple federal science agencies produce data on climate risks, but some experts say that the current information-sharing structure is fragmented and often confusing.

Climate data (everything possible/Shutterstock.com)
 

Lawmakers discussed the possibility of creating new federal infrastructure to facilitate the sharing of information on climate risks with the private sector, state and local governments during a subcommittee hearing for the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Wednesday.

"Today's hearing is about making sure our nation's state-of-art climate observations, modeling and research makes it into the hands of workers upgrading our highways and bridges, growing our food, and retrofitting our buildings," said Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on the Environment.

Federal information sharing on climate risk currently is fragmented across agencies, according to a 2015 report from the Government Accountability Office.

"Coordination is evident, but these efforts are fragmented and do not fully meet the needs of federal, state, local and private sector decision makers," it says.

The report recommended the creation of a "national climate information system" with federal leadership, federal data and quality assurance guidelines and nonfederal tech assistance to share climate information with decision makers.

A similar recommendation to establish a "Climate Risk Information Service" with a central portal of climate risk information was also included in a report released last summer by the Democrats on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

A few Republican committee members said that they are wary of creating new federal infrastructure.

"I'm hopeful today's discussion will focus on what information and data localities need, not just increasing bureaucracy with another federal government agency or service," said the subcommittee's ranking member, Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.).

While a range of federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, academic centers and private sector institutions can provide climate-related information, that variety can also create confusion about which data is appropriate in any given situation, witnesses said.

"It's very confusing for people from the ground up to look into that patchwork and then identify what is the pathway to service," Beth Gibbons, the executive director of the American Society of Adaptation Professionals, said. "It's important that we have coordination across federal agencies so that we're all receiving the same information."

Dr. Richard Moss, a senior scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Join Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland, also echoed this point, telling lawmakers that he thinks they'll need to establish a new authority to work across agencies.

"A more unified federal effort that doesn't replace or try to set up a single source for all information, but that serves as a point of contact and helps direct people to the appropriate information, would be an excellent choice," he said. "There is a clear opportunity for federal leadership."

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