Selling Weather Sattelites to Private Corporations

Farmers paying special fees for frost forecasts? The armed services relying on a private corporate monopoly for weather information? The U.S. government selling its four weather satellites and one land surveying satellite for a pittance to a private corporation which then sells the weather information back to the government daily under a 15 year profit guaranteed contract?

Sounds far out? Sounds just like Ronald Reagan who is going to propose just such a grotesque giveaway for the Congress to ratify. The Congress is very unlikely to go along with such a zany scheme. But the Reagan proposal tells us much about the total contempt that he and his associates have toward the public’s resources and their public stewardship over them.

The hard-core Reaganites have difficulty admitting that government exists for any other reason than fighting communists in order to protect and subsidize capitalists. Their ideology is embodied in a recent book called Instead of Regulation which advocates transferring almost all government services — including police, courts, firefighting, safety and health regulation– to the marketplace. Already underway is Reagan’s drive to sell off 50 million acres of the public lands to private companies. Now comes the sell off of the weather satellites.

All this, you must understand, is being done to reduce the federal deficit. This is a nifty formula. The Reaganites produce oceans of federal red ink and then argue they need small dribbles of money from the sales of federal assets to make them look less like big spenders. Better hold on to the Washington Monument and the Grand Canyon, for who knows what will be next.

For now, it is the weather satellite system and possibly portions of the U.S. Weather Service which Reagan wants to place in a government subsidized private monopoly. Four companies are reported as interested in selling the weather–Comsat, in the lead, General Electric, RCA and the Hughes Company. The highest bidder wins the monopoly.

Comsat has offered $300 million for the weather satellites and the Landsat satellite. You, the taxpayers, have poured $1.6 billion into developing and launching them. Comsat is smarter yet. It wants to pay for the satellites from a 15 year government guarantee to buy back the weather information that the government has been providing itself w3.th from its satellites. Small wonder that John V. Byrne, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could admit to reporters last week that there are no reliable figures to show that such a sale would save the government money. He added that the government might lose money, at the rate of hundreds of millions of dollars annually for perhaps 10 years. “But that’s only a guess,” he said.

What is not a guess is the proposed destruction of the Weather Service as a public, universally accessible service for all Americans and for all weather information needs. Trafficking for profit in the production and distribution of weather data and forecasts becomes institutionally possible under Reagan’s private monopoly plan. We could expect “Special Jumbo Hurricane Early Alert Service” for those who can pay. And how would any of these companies, bidding for the greater weather grab, decide which of their clients or conflicts of interests here and around the world they are going to favor.

The people paid for these weather satellites so that their government could provide them with critical weather information openly, fully and without favor. They do not need to be afflicted with the conflict, added expense and worry that will come from a taxpayer-supported private multinational corporation profiteering through a weather service monopoly. If Ronald Reagan has any doubts about where the vast majority of the American people stand on this weather service issue he can always commission a poll.

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