If I were as vapid as Ann Althouse, I’d probably wonder if Bobby Jindal’s hostility toward “volcano monitoring” weren’t some variety of passive aggressive challenge to Sarah Palin, who spends a lot more time near active volcanoes than most of the GOP’s rising stars.
The $140 million to which Jindal referred is actually for a number of projects conducted by the United States Geological Survey, including volcano monitoring. This monitoring is aimed at helping geologists understand the inner workings of volcanoes as well as providing warnings of impending eruptions, in the United States and in active areas around the world where U.S. military bases are located.
Among the scenarios in which the USGS’s monitoring can assist — the catastrophic eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, which killed 57 people (including a geologist monitoring the mountain) and was the deadliest and costliest volcanic eruption in U.S. history ($2.74 billion in 2007 dollars). This event was preceded by thousands of earthquakes in the two months before the volcano blew its top; some of these prompted the Governor of Washington to declare a state of emergency and many residents were evacuated from a designated danger zone.
About 50 volcanic eruptions occur around the world every year, according to the USGS. The United States ranks third, behind Indonesia and Japan, in its number of historically active volcanoes (those for which written accounts exist). Most U.S. volcanoes are located in the Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Peninsula, the Hawaiian Islands, and the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest, with the rest distributed around the West.
It’s pretty clear from the context of Bobby Jindal’s remarks that he doesn’t merely think that $140 million for geological work is misplaced in a stimulus bill. He actually argues that volcano monitoring is inherently silly. As the governor of a geologically-vulnerable state, you’d think Jindal would have a bit more sense than that, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the new GOP — now with 50 percent more crazy — this past year has given us.