A Category 5 Waste

July 1, 2009

Orlando may be the center of tourism in the U.S. The home, even, of the next NBA champion.

But the hub for hurricane research?

U.S. Rep Alan Grayson says you can count on that, thanks to commitments he got from House leaders to spend $50 million on a new national hurricane research center in Orlando. Believe him, however, and you have to buy into the reasons he offers on why he pushed to get the funding in the first place.

Each makes little-to-no sense, and together they don’t add up.

Mr. Grayson says a research center in Orlando is critical to further our understanding of the science behind hurricanes.

But researchers and officials who head the nation’s hurricane research efforts say a push to make Orlando the epicenter of hurricane research is a fool’s errand, one that would prove damaging and disruptive.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Miami and Florida International University long ago made Miami ground zero in the effort to predict and better understand the origin, trajectory and ferocity of hurricanes. By attempting to make Orlando the hot spot for hurricane research, an effort that would involve luring researchers here from other labs, scientists say work under way elsewhere would be undermined.

Mr. Grayson says the center in Orlando would be affiliated with NOAA and could be tied to the University of Central Florida.

But UCF doesn’t even offer a meteorology degree. It does some worthy research into beach erosion and other climate issues related to hurricanes, but even UCF doesn’t pretend that it’s among the leading institutions on hurricane research. Why should Mr. Grayson?

Why, in fact, didn’t he even bother to first talk to UCF officials before working to get funding for a research center that could heavily involve them?

Details. Details. Mr. Grayson’s simply working to bring every possible dollar to his Central Florida district.

If that’s what drives much of what he does, as a spokesman for the congressman contends, why hasn’t he looked to secure funding for what a school like UCF desperately needs? He’s offering pork when the school needs chicken. UCF’s seeking funding for research into alternative energy, like solar and biomass; and into biomedical research.

Mr. Grayson’s unresponsiveness, however, has caused UCF to work instead with long-time Congresswoman Corrine Brown and newcomer Suzanne Kosmas to get research money.

All right. So it’s not just about serving the district pork. It’s about what’s doing best for the nation. It’s about making sound policy.

Mr. Grayson says the funding for the hurricane center actually is just part of all the good that will flow from his vote for the energy bill, which passed the House last week.

But if the energy bill that can help curb climate change that threatens Florida and the nation was so critical, why did Mr. Grayson withhold his support till just before the House voted? So he could land a research center that researchers say isn’t needed?

Another explanation: For Mr. Grayson, what’s needed most is getting re-elected.

There’s an excellent chance the $50 million won’t ever make its way to Orlando. It’s not mentioned in the House bill. And the Senate has yet to take up the bill. But Mr. Grayson will promote to his constituents the commitment he secured for the research center, and the jobs it will create. In fact, he already has.

But it may never happen. And it’s not needed. Congress should show restraint.

We’re all for bringing new jobs to Central Florida, but not like this.