Perlmutter’s Space Weather Bill Takes Important Step Forward with Committee Passage

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Washington, D.C.-, January 9, 2020 | comments

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s (CO-07) bipartisan legislation aimed at expanding the scientific understanding and forecasting of space weather today passed the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on a voice vote. H.R. 5260, the Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve the Forecasting of Tomorrow (PROSWIFT) Act builds upon previous efforts to coordinate critical research and operational needs to improve our understanding of space weather and better prepare for its impacts.

“This issue first came to my attention over four years ago from CU-Boulder’s Dr. Dan Baker who provided testimony about the dangers of space weather events on the electric grid. Space weather can cause significant damage to our infrastructure and our economy, and we need to make sure we are all working together to have the best research which informs the best modeling and forecasting possible,” said Perlmutter. “I appreciate the support of Rep. Mo Brooks for his help pushing for this bipartisan legislation and Chairwoman Johnson for her support and moving this bill forward.”

Specifically, the bill helps break down barriers between the research community and operational forecasters by encouraging sharing of information and requirements to improve the pipeline of new observations, technologies, models, and forecasts, and encourages consideration of new perspectives from the academic community, commercial space weather sector, and space weather forecast end users. For the first time, the bill clearly delineates the roles and responsibilities of the key federal agencies involved in space weather, including NOAA, NASA, NSF, DOD, FAA, Interior and OSTP. The bill would also require the first ever space weather user survey to understand the needs of users of space weather products and incorporate those needs into an integrated strategy across the federal government to address space weather research and observational needs. 

In a letter of support for the PROSWIFT Act, Dr. Dan Baker, Director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder stated, “…The call to increase our space weather forecasting and mitigation capabilities was amplified by the National Academies Decadal Survey in Solar and Space Physics in 2012, and again through the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Space Weather Action Plan that was released in October 2015. Through these calls, it has become a national imperative to streamline the mechanisms designed to help develop and maintain a forecasting system that not only help to predict space weather events, but to respond to them. We believe the PROSWIFT Act will provide a collaborative framework for the federal government and its agencies to work together alongside academic, international and commercial space communities to advance this critical undertaking.”

Dr. Antonio Busalacchi, President of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) also voiced support in a letter stating, “HR 5260 will enhance the integration of existing national efforts to understand, predict, prepare for, and mitigate space weather and will strengthen economic and national security as a result. HR 5260 lays out a clear road map for the space weather enterprise which consists of the public, private and academic sectors, and in so doing will enable better research to operations transitions that will benefit all communities that rely on technology both on the ground and in space that can be affected by these sun-driven events.”

“Colorado has some of the best minds, laboratories and research institutions on space weather in the country,” said Perlmutter. “This legislation will help the academic and commercial space weather sector best contribute and participate to improve our space weather enterprise.”

In addition to CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and UCAR, H.R. 5260 also received support from the American Commercial Space Weather Association; the American Astronomical Society; the American Geophysical Union; the University of Michigan; the University of New Hampshire; and Pennsylvania State University.

The PROSWIFT Act is the House companion to S. 881, introduced by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) which passed the Senate Commerce Committee in 2019. Together with Senator Peters, Perlmutter has been working on this legislation since 2016, with various versions of the bill passing the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Science Committee. Perlmutter plans to continue working with Senator Peters to enact this legislation this year.

Space weather refers to the conditions of the space environment arising from interactions with emissions from the sun, including solar flares and coronal mass ejections. These naturally occurring variations may cause disruption to the electric power grid, communications networks, satellite operations, and aircraft operations. Most of our understanding of space weather is based on experience and knowledge gained over the last 30 years, though the historical record indicates space weather events of much greater severity have occurred within the last 150 years. Impacting airlines, GPS, and electric utilities, space weather events in recent history resulted in economic consequences in the tens of millions of dollars. Estimates for damage resulting from a repeat of the worst known event of the last 150 years range from $1 – 2 trillion in the first year alone. Scientists do not know the likelihood of such an event recurring, or even whether such an event is the worst-case scenario. Lloyds of London estimates a worst-case scenario space weather event could cost up to $2.6 trillion and impact as many as 40 million people by causing outages at electric utilities, disrupting GPS and communication networks and forcing airlines to reroute air traffic.

To see Perlmutter’s committee remarks, click here.

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