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US National Climate Program Act

First conceived in 1975, American legislators sought to pass a national climate program to reduce the negative impacts of climatic variability.  The central idea was that states would work in concert with the federal government to monitor and analyze climatic fluctuations in the hope that such efforts could lead to accurate climate predictions.  Given the elimination of the State Climatology Program in 1973 during the Nixon administration, state climatologists, business and agricultural interests, as well as state officials argued vehemently for a program that strengthened the role of local interests in national decision making.  State climatologists, many of whom testified in support of climate legislation, were especially critical of what appeared to be federal inaction on climate-related matters.

While influential members of the U.S. Congress – in consultation with various constituencies – concluded that something should be done, prominent officials within the Carter administration advocated for a more restrained approach to climate governance.  Instead of providing grants to local and state officials, who then would distribute the funds to state climatologists and other climate-related services tailored to individual state needs, the administration argued for a more centralized research program suited to improving the reliability of climate predictions.  The Office of Science and Technology Policy, as well as the Office of Management and Budget, relied on the opinions not only of agency heads but on the views as presented within federally-sponsored scientific reports. 

Despite the reluctance of the administration to support congressional efforts to pass a service-oriented climate program, President Carter signed the legislation into law in September 1978.  This legislation marked the first time that climate had acquired a distinctly legal and political identity within the United States, and as such its passage also marks the first time that climate deliberations sparked policy disagreements between different branches of the American government.

(Text: Gabriel Henderson)


Henderson, Gabriel 2016: "Governing the Hazards of Climate: The Development of the National Climate Program Act, 1977-1981", Historical Studies of the Natural Sciences 46:2, pp. 207-242.