The expected rollback to federal climate science has begun.
In its preliminary budget proposal, the Trump administration has targeted environmental protections and climate change research. And while the cuts are essentially an opening salvo in what promises to be a fight with Congress once the budget requests formally arrive, they also demonstrate the level of hostility many scientists feared their work would face from the White House.
The administration is seeking a nearly 20 percent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's budget, including to its satellite division, The Washington Post reported. That includes significant cuts to the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, which has produced research that disproved the notion of a global warming pause. NOAA's satellites provide invaluable data on climate change that are used by researchers throughout the world. The NOAA cuts target the Office of Ocean and Atmospheric Research, which conducts the bulk of the agency's climate research.
That's on top of proposed reductions to climate research at U.S. EPA, including a 40 percent cut to the Office of Research and Development, which runs much of EPA's major research. The cuts specify work on climate change, air and water quality, and chemical safety. The Trump administration also has proposed 20 percent staffing reduction at EPA.
More than a dozen federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, the Interior Department and the Department of Energy, conduct climate research. Further cuts are expected, particularly at NASA, which develops and launches the satellites that provide invaluable information on climate change used throughout the world. President Trump has called global warming a "hoax," and some congressional Republicans pushing for climate science cuts have falsely claimed that federal scientists are engaged in a massive conspiracy to defraud the American public into thinking that human activity is causing the planet to warm.
About a third of the American economy relies on weather, climate and natural hazard data, said Chris McEntee, president of the American Geophysical Union, the nation's largest scientific organization. She said much of the federal scientific research and data comes from multiple agencies working together, so cutting one will have a ripple effect.
"It's not just one agency, it's a holistic view here, and cutting one piece also has an impact on the whole enterprise of what we get out of science from the federal government that enables us to have the kinds of tools and information we need to protect the infrastructure, to protect lives, to protect public safety, and to give us knowledge and information to make a more effective economy and country," she said.
For the last quarter-century, through Republican and Democratic administrations, the funding level for climate change research has remained relatively flat. It hovered at about $2 billion from 1993 to 2014, according to the Government Accountability Office. The funding for science remained flat even as the overall funding for research, technology, adaptation and international assistance climbed from about $2.4 billion in 1993 to more than $11 billion in 2014, the GAO reported.
The NOAA cuts, at least as they are initially laid out by the administration, would be devastating to the agency's scientific research across multiple areas, said Erika Spanger-Siegfried, a senior analyst in the climate and energy program at the Union for Concerned Scientists. She said NOAA's satellites provide information for storm warnings, extreme weather preparation, sea-level-rise predictions and basic weather forecasting essential to the agriculture, real estate and energy industries. She said that when an agency like NOAA absorbs substantial cuts, it could have a reverberating effect throughout all of its functions.
Spanger-Siegfried said the proposed cuts are already impeding the ability of scientists to perform basic scientific research as the agency grapples with how it can lose such a significant part of its functionality.
"This administration clearly has an anti-science agenda, and within that it has a very energized anti-climate-science agenda that's very visible in the cuts that are being prioritized," she said, adding, "Climate science requires these satellites; not just NOAA scientists but scientists around the world depend on the data that NOAA generates."
The targeting of climate science goes beyond the work of NOAA and EPA. The Earth Science Division of NASA is another expected target.
The administration and congressional Republicans have already spoken about removing or replacing climate research at other federal agencies, as well. At a recent hearing of the House Science Committee, which has jurisdiction over NOAA and other agencies that produce federal climate change research, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said he wanted to "rebalance" NASA and shift its climate research to other agencies. Trump transition officials have suggested that NOAA handle NASA's earth science research, but cuts to NOAA suggest the administration is not interested in continuing that research. Smith has also suggested additional scrutiny for science grants from the National Science Foundation, which provides significant funding for climate research.
Scientists reacted with dread to the news of the NOAA cuts, pointing out that the agency has been funded through Republican and Democratic administrations for years.
"A reminder: virtually all we know about Earth's atmosphere & oceans comes from sustained decades of government-funded scientific research," tweeted Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate researcher.
Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist at the University of Georgia and past president of the American Meteorological Society, wrote in his Forbes blog that such cuts would affect research for years.
"Research cuts compromise our ability to sustain and develop new capabilities in the future," he wrote, "Even 1-4 year lags or reductions can cause long-term damage because of erosion of technical skills, scientific expertise, and industry contracts."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.