[Editorial note: the title of the piece should have been “Yellowstone is Sinking”, since it’s Yellowstone, not Yosemite, which is a super-volcano. The original text has been edited to correct this.]
Right after President Obama’s address to the nation, the Republicans mounted a short response led by Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA). While we all have worries about how this plan will turn out , Jindal made some odd comments.
I was encouraged to write a few things about Jindal’s calling out of magnetic levitating trains and volcano monitoring. A close colleague of mine beat me to the latter , but I won’t let that stop me from jotting down at least some of what I wanted to say about this.
What did Jindal have to say? He pointed to some specific items in the bill and called them wasteful spending. In general, it’s always wise to avoid casting stones in the glass house of perceived earmarks . But, I digress. Here’s the quote:
Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money, they passed the largest government spending bill in history, with a price tag of more than $1 trillion with interest. While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a “magnetic levitation” line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called “volcano monitoring.” Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C. 
So, let’s go to H.R.1  and explore the actual language (I hate these simplistic summaries!).
Energy-Efficient Federal Motor Vehicle Fleet Procurement
For capital expenditures and necessary expenses of acquiring motor vehicles with higher fuel economy, including: hybrid vehicles; electric vehicles; and commercially-available, plug-in hybrid vehicles, $300,000,000, to remain available until September 30, 2011
CAPITAL ASSISTANCE FOR HIGH SPEED RAIL CORRIDORS AND INTERCITY PASSENGER RAIL SERVICE
For an additional amount for section 501 of Public Law 110-432 and discretionary grants to States to pay for the cost of projects described in paragraphs (2)(A) and (2)(B) of section 24401 of title 49, United States Code, subsection (b) of section 24105 of such title, $8,000,000,000, to remain available through September 30, 2012
United States Geological Survey
surveys, investigations, and research
For an additional amount for `Surveys, Investigations, and Research’, $140,000,000, for repair, construction and restoration of facilities; equipment replacement and upgrades including stream gages, and seismic and volcano monitoring systems; national map activities; and other critical deferred maintenance and improvement projects.
Let’s go in order. I have very little to say about the comment “$300 million to buy new cars for the government”; government employees need cars, and replacing the existing aged fleet with fuel-efficient vehicles sounds pretty damned responsible. Given the age of government vehicle I see around national laboratories . . . well, you get the idea. Besides, we’re talking about $300 million over two years. That’s chump change.
I also have little to say about the high speed rail comment. What I didn’t quote about was the one page of “Proveded thats…” that follows; so many conditions are laid on that $8B, you can’t imagine how it could be easily wasted. Not only that, this money is meant to supplement existing federal law that provides grants to states for high speed rail projects.
The one that got the most attention from my friends and colleagues was the “volcano monitoring” comment. As my colleague points out in his blog post, Governors from states in the ring of fire were super-pissed. That kind of criticism notwithstanding, it’s also important to remember that the eruption of a major volcano not only affects the hundreds of thousands of people living in its proximity, but affects climate for thousands of miles around. Thousands of miles conveniently covers, say, a continent like ours, making volcano monitoring critical to national security and the economy. Even though we can’t stop them, we can prepare for them.
The worst of these could be Yellowstone, which is believed to be the caldera of a super-volcano whose eruption is due and which, the last time it erupted, coated this continent in ash. 
Science aside, the main point here goes back to the comment I made earlier. You have to be super-careful not to cast stones in the glass house of earmarks. Everybody has benefited from one. Jindal is no different. In fact, scanning the bill turns up this gem:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the President shall establish an arbitration panel under the Federal Emergency Management Agency public assistance program to expedite the recovery efforts from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita within the Gulf Coast Region . . . The Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency may not prohibit or restrict the use of funds designated under the hazard mitigation grant program for damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita if the homeowner who is an applicant for assistance under such program commenced work otherwise eligible for hazard mitigation grant program assistance . . .
Of course, no surprise – Jindal’s own state will benefit from the laws in this bill, having many restrictions on spending FEMA relief money for the natural disasters that ravaged the Gulf just a few years back. Sure, the bill doesn’t authorize more money, but it loosens strings attached to the significant existing allocation of relief money. Now, quite apart from the fact that Jindal benefits from this bill and calls out money that benefits Governors of other states, there is a deeper problem. Jindal criticizes prevention of a national emergency – a volcanic eruption – and yet he CLEARLY must understand the value of gettings hundreds of thousands of people out of the path of nature’s fury.
Or, maybe he doesn’t understand the value of prevention – in which case, I say, “Woe be unto Lousiana.”