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April 25, 2022

Chairwoman Johnson's Keynote Remarks at the American Meteorological Society Washington Forum

Keynote Remarks as Prepared

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

American Meteorological Society Washington Forum

Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with members of the American Meteorological Society. Founded over 100 years ago, the AMS is the nation’s foremost professional society for atmospheric sciences.

The work done by AMS and its members is vital to the advancement of our understanding of the weather and our climate.

As Chairwoman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, I understand the importance of science guiding policymaking. My colleagues and I strive to engage consistently with the broad scientific community. This engagement is crucial as we develop legislative proposals to deal with the pressing questions society faces today. That is why I am especially pleased to be able to speak with you all at the annual AMS Washington Forum. This Forum provides a unique opportunity to bring science and policy together. I hope that this Forum will foster important dialogues for the future of this field.

Being from Texas, I have dealt with my fair share of extreme weather.

In Dallas alone we experience hot summers, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes regularly. But Texas is a big state with a variety of different climates. Across our great state we have seen intense drought and wildfires, as well as increasing storm surge and inland flooding.

Texas is not alone in experiencing more intense and frequent extreme weather events. NOAA found that 2021 was second only to 2020 for total billion-dollar weather and climate disasters per calendar year. It was also the third most costly year for disasters on record, and one of the deadliest since 2011. This trend in recent years of an increased number and diversity of extreme events is troubling.

If this is to be our new normal, we must accelerate our understanding of weather phenomena.  It is also clear that we must understand how a warming climate can influence, and often exacerbate, extreme events.

However, if we are to make progress in that critically important research, we are going to need all the brainpower we can muster.  That’s why my colleagues and I are working hard to ensure we build a future where America can lead in science and technology with a STEM workforce that accurately represents our nation.  To that end we wasted no time this Congress in putting forth bipartisan legislation to address the gaps in opportunities for those who wish to pursue STEM careers.

For 15 years I have led the effort to enact a STEM Opportunities Act, and I am pleased that it passed the House in February as part of the America COMPETES Act. This legislation is critical to growing and fortifying our STEM workforce. Our workforce must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to meet the needs of today’s industries and to address public needs, as well as make breakthrough discoveries that will launch future industries and promote the welfare of all our citizens. The weather enterprise is no exception.

So far, we have gotten by with a workforce that does not come close to representing the diversity of our nation. If we continue to leave behind so much of our nation’s brainpower, we cannot succeed.

Research provides compelling evidence that diversity unlocks innovation, yet we have failed to fully leverage the diverse talent available to us.

Of particular concern is the underrepresentation of women and minority researchers in STEM faculty positions.  Without diverse STEM faculty, we cannot grow the STEM workforce and advance the research and innovation we need to take on our most pressing challenges.

The global competition in science and technology continues to intensify.  And the lack of diversity in the U.S. STEM workforce creates a significant drag on our own capacity to innovate.

The challenges we face today demand a dramatic expansion of the STEM workforce, one that is inclusive of talented students of all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. We need computer scientists and economists. Oceanographers and meteorologists. Engineers, chemists, and social scientists. And together, we will push the boundaries of what we know and what we can achieve.

I like to refer to my Committee as the “Committee of the Future”.  On the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, we have an opportunity to look beyond the politics of today to develop the best policies for tomorrow.  

The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act is an example of how Congress has been working toward this goal in a bipartisan fashion. With this bill, Congress reiterated its intention for the US to be a world leader in weather forecasting. It also showed how Congress can come together to push for transformative change across the weather enterprise. 

As you all know, the ability to provide accurate and timely weather forecasts is not the responsibility of the Federal government alone. We often talk about the weather enterprise as a three-legged stool, with Federal activities supported by robust academic and private sector partnerships.

Supporting a balance among government-provided public services, private sector innovation, and critical contributions from academia, can propel the weather enterprise into a successful future.

However, understanding weather and climate is more than understanding what is happening in the atmosphere alone. Warmer oceans can lead to devastating hurricanes that rapidly intensify before making landfall, like we saw with Hurricane Ida last year. A warmer atmosphere can lead to increased precipitation leading to inland flooding events. That is why it is necessary to look at the Earth as a system.  Advancing Earth system sciences will help us integrate how the weather, ocean, climate, and atmosphere interact.

Which in turn will improve our ability to forecast weather and climate phenomena.

Earth observations are vital to supporting our understanding of the Earth system. Satellites that provide continuous coverage of our planet have played an enormous role in strengthening weather and climate forecasting models. We are at a pivotal point as NOAA is developing the next generation of its geostationary and polar orbiting satellite series. We welcome the AMS community’s engagement as Congress conducts its oversight of these programs.

Critical to satellite-based Earth observations is responsible management of the radiofrequency spectrum.

Our Committee recognizes the importance of 5G development, and we support advancing the technology. But we also recognize the potential threat 5G deployment can pose to critical earth and space observations if not managed responsibly. There is bipartisan consensus on our Committee that we need a solution that supports 5G deployment and the technologies of tomorrow while protecting incumbent spectrum users, like NOAA and NASA, who provide crucial data to the nation.

As Chairwoman I have worked closely with my colleagues across the aisle to support R&D in the Earth sciences. We have a shared commitment to improving our understanding of weather and climate through robust bipartisan legislation and diligent oversight.

Since 2019 when I took the gavel, we have held 10 hearings on matters important to the meteorological community. We have also worked to advance many pieces of relevant legislation through the Committee.

A few months ago, we passed out of Committee the Providing Research and Estimates of Changes in Precipitation – or the PRECIP (PRE-sip) – Act.  This bill would require NOAA to update out-of-date precipitation data. With bipartisan and bicameral support, I am confident that we will get this critical legislation to the President’s desk.

We also passed legislation out of Committee to address the ever-increasing threat from wildfires. 

The bill focuses on the R&D needed to improve observations and prediction of fires and associated smoke. It would also promote better building practices and improve the health and safety of communities.

This audience knows that a strong space weather event could impact satellites, as well as critical ground systems like the electric grid. The PROSWIFT Act provided a framework for the Federal government to identify and predict the risk posed by space weather phenomenon. I am encouraged by NOAA and NASA’s efforts to implement this important legislation. I look forward to following the growth of the space weather field in the years to come.

Underpinning all of this work is a commitment to scientific integrity. I thank AMS for its support of strong Federal scientific integrity standards. This was on display in AMS’s response to the NOAA statement on Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

The Committee recently passed a bipartisan bill that sets strong scientific qualifications for the NOAA Chief Scientist. It also emphasizes the importance of the Chief Scientist’s commitment to both adhere to and uphold the agency’s scientific integrity policies. I’d like to thank AMS for its endorsement of this bill.

Robust investment is crucial to support these advancements in weather prediction, Earth observations, and dissemination.

We understand the importance of investing in additional high-performance computing, and the instruments, technology, and facilities necessary to make advances in the science. Supporting scientists, gathering more and higher quality data, and investing in new technologies will set us up for success.

When I became Chairwoman of the Science Committee, one of my biggest goals was to return the Committee to its bipartisan approach to legislation and oversight. I am happy to say that with the support of Ranking Member Frank Lucas, we have largely been successful in this aim. I hope that this will be one of my lasting legacies as Chairwoman.

This return to bipartisanship has helped us accomplish a lot on the Committee, but our work this Congress is not done. In my final months as Chairwoman, my colleagues and I will continue to push for the bipartisan legislation we’ve worked on all Congress to be enacted.

But I want to be clear: the work of our Committee is made possible by engagement with organizations like the AMS. I and my staff deeply value the support of the AMS and its members. We have been fortunate to benefit from your insights on important issues over the years. The AMS community has aided us in identifying good hearing witness candidates and has provided expert testimony at our hearings. You’ve answered critical questions and helped us develop strong legislation.

And you have helped to guide the Committee’s ever important oversight work.

I again want to thank the organizers of the AMS Washington Forum for inviting me to speak today. It has been an honor to work with this organization during my tenure on the Science Committee, and especially as Chairwoman. I want to reiterate my gratitude for the continued partnership between the AMS community and the Science Committee. I hope that it will continue for many years to come. Thank you.