Alaska editorial: Senator wrong in wanting to limit access to weather data

Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2005

This editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

In Alaska, watching the weather is not an idle pastime. Knowing what's brewing in the skies can mean the difference between a safe outing and disaster. When the federal government supplies weather information, it's performing an essential public safety function.

But one eastern U.S. senator thinks the federal government is just too free in handing out weather data. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., gripes that private companies have trouble selling weather information when the government gives it away for free. He wants to impose drastic limits on the kind of weather data the federal government can supply the public. Federal officials would have to button their lips about the weather unless some natural disaster is brewing.

This is privatization ideology run amok. Critics note the public already has paid for weather information once, when the government collects it. It shouldn't have to pay some private sector middleman for the privilege of seeing it.

Cost isn't the issue here. Thanks to the Internet, it costs the government very little to make information widely available. The issue is that a politician wants to hamstring a legitimate function of government so it's easier for somebody to make a buck. Let the nation's weather forecasters do their jobs without political interference. In Alaska, that work is particularly critical.

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