So it is the epitome of penny-wise and pound-foolish for the Obama administration to propose cutting the nation's tsunami warning and preparedness programs.
At issue is a $1 million trim in the $11 million annual budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to operate and maintain a network of 39 high-tech ocean buoys that send crucial data to tsunami warning centers in Alaska and Hawaii. Also on the chopping block is $3.6 million that is about one-fourth of the annual grants that states use for tsunami zone maps, evacuation plans, warning signs and public education programs.
U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California are protesting the proposed cuts. Cuts in "funds for tsunami early warning systems jeopardize the safety and economic stability of communities in our states," they warned leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee in a Tuesday letter that was also signed by Sens. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon.
The letter pointed out that last March, the early warning gave authorities time to reinforce seawalls, pile up sandbags and take other steps that safeguarded lives and minimized property damage.
All the senators are fellow Democrats and usually strong supporters of the president, but on this issue they are vocal critics, joining many tsunami experts and emergency response officials.
The White House is looking to cut the budget and to show House Republicans it is serious about deficit reduction. But this relatively paltry savings fails the common-sense test.
Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, the committee chairman, reportedly opposes the cut, so the money is likely to be in the Senate budget bill.
While we need to guard against the devastation of a tsunami, we also need to heed a new warning about the "invisible tsunami" of long-term rising sea levels caused by global warming.
About 3.7 million Americans live in low-lying areas that face more frequent flooding from high tides and storm surges, according to the new research, conducted for the nonprofit Climate Central and published online Wednesday by the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Florida is the most vulnerable, but the report says that more than 374,000 people and 160,000 homes in California are at risk because they are less than 4 feet above sea level.
While the historical sea level rise off California has been about 0.8 inches per decade, the projected rise is 11 inches by 2050. It's not just the coast at risk, but places well inland. In fact, the city most in danger is Stockton, where more than 24,000 people and 10,000 homes are below 1 foot above sea level, the study says.
The answers to climate change, of course, are immensely complex. Restricting and relocating coastal development is highly controversial.
In comparison, the immediate issue of the tsunami warning system is a no-brainer. Congress should protect its funding.