WV congressional delegation fights to save Green Bank telescope - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

WV congressional delegation fights to save Green Bank telescope

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Three members of West Virginia's congressional delegation have taken steps to keep open the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank.

Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall, all D-W.Va., sent a letter to Subra Suresh, director of the National Science Foundation, seeking more details about the foundation's Astronomy Portfolio Review, which recommended last month the NSF divest itself of its operations at Green Bank. The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope is the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope and has been in operation since 2002.

"It is important that the NSF understand the vital roles the Green Bank Observatory plays, not only in Pocahontas County, but throughout the scientific community worldwide," Rockefeller said in a statement. "I'm deeply concerned about the report on two levels. First, as a West Virginian, I know just how important this facility is to its employees, the Pocahontas County community at large, as well as students, teachers and community members who enjoy the wonders the observatory has to teach us all. Second … I know the valuable contribution the facility has made to scientific discovery. It serves as a global hub for math and science education, which is vital to American competitiveness in the classroom and around the world. I am fully committed to keeping Green Bank open and thriving."

Rockefeller is chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which oversees the NSF.

The foundation does not expect to act on the review's recommendation until the end of 2013 and is under no legal authority to abide by those recommendations. According to the letter, NSF staff reached out to staff members of the congressional delegation and "pledged NSF's desire to work with us in identifying positive solutions."

"We welcome that opportunity and seek your cooperation on a number of fronts," the letter reads.

The letter goes on to say the delegation would like to see a detailed timeline of the decision-making process through 2013 with each milestone event included and assurances that congressional notification will be a part of that process. The delegation also requests in the letter a clear understanding of the specific legal authorities NSF has to transfer the observatory to another federal agency, university or private entity.

"We would also seek a better understanding of the agency's plans to help transition each and every Green Bank employee under a potential divestment scenario, especially considering that nearly all federal and public/private entities are facing similar budgetary hardships," the letter reads. "Finally, we implore NSF to exhaustively consider other options not included in the APR's recommendations."

"Our letter makes clear to NSF officials that the West Virginia congressional delegation is united in strongly opposing the Astronomy Portfolio Review Committee's recommendation that the NSF disinvest in Green Bank," said Rahall, whose district includes Pocahontas County. "Frankly, it is ridiculous to suggest that it makes fiscal sense to walk away from such a substantial investment. In the coming months, I hope to reinforce that message and explore every practical option to keep this world-class facility operational."

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