Science Policy & Funding News

Trump’s Early Actions Target Science, Environment

Although the administration declares “historic accomplishments” during its first 100 days, a look back at Earth and space science impacts sees funding threats, rollbacks, and controversial appointees.

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U.S. president Donald Trump tweeted last week that judging his effectiveness by his first 100 days in office, which comes on 29 April, is a “ridiculous standard.”

However, the White House already has touted Trump’s first 100 days “of historic accomplishments” by stating that he “has done more to stop the Government from interfering in the lives of Americans in his first 100 days than any other President in history.”

Just yesterday the president signed an executive order to review national monuments larger than 100,000 acres that were designated under the Antiquities Act during roughly the past 20 years. The monuments, which Trump referred to as a “massive federal land grab,” protect a number of public land areas in the West, along with vast ocean monuments, from resource extraction and some other uses.

In the face of the administration’s claims, many scientists and others concerned about federal funding for research, climate change, environmental protection, and other issues have a different perspective on the president’s first 100 days. Here are some of the actions, reported by Eos and others, that the administration has taken that affect the Earth and space sciences.

Federal Funding Cuts to Earth Science

The administration’s $1.15 trillion budget blueprint for fiscal year 2018, which was issued on 16 March and needs congressional approval, would strip away considerable funding from nondefense and nonentitlement agencies and programs, including Earth and space science agencies, to make room for a proposed additional $54 billion in defense spending.

For example, the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would decrease 31% to $5.7 billion, whereas the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) funding would fall 15.7% to $7.8 billion, with climate research and climate-related programs among the areas taking hits.

NASA’s overall funding would be fairly steady, with a big increase in planetary science, but the budget would eliminate four climate science–related satellite missions. Some agencies, including the National Science Foundation, whose budgets were not included in the blueprint are hoping for the best when the administration releases its full budget proposal in May.

At a 16 March briefing, White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Mick Mulvaney summed up the administration’s budget priorities related to climate change: “We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that a waste of your money to go out and do that.”

Environmental Policy and Research

The administration’s actions include many measures to roll back regulations. Among them, on 27 March the president signed an “energy independence and economic growth” executive order. The order initiates a review of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, rescinds Obama’s Climate Action Plan to cut carbon pollution and prepare for climate change impacts, rolls back the method for estimating the cost of climate change, ends a moratorium on coal leasing on federal land, and calls for a review of any rule that could “potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.”

The president also signed into law on 16 February a bill that repeals the Stream Protection Rule, meant to protect waterways from coal mining waste. The rule had been finalized last December after Trump had won the election but before he took office.

Other rollbacks include an 18 April decision by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to reconsider rules meant to reduce methane emissions from new oil and gas wells.

In addition, on 15 March the EPA and the Department of Transportation announced that they will reassess recently finalized car fuel efficiency standards.

The administration has pledged to push for a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, which has received some bipartisan support. However, some infrastructure measures have proven controversial, including White House actions to advance the Dakota Access oil pipeline and its approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. In addition, a 24 January executive order calls for expediting environmental reviews and approvals for high-priority infrastructure projects.

A 30 January executive order calls for repealing two existing regulations for every new one enacted.

Actions Affecting the Workforce

The administration early on issued a temporary hiring freeze that Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told Eos “is just the opening shot of a hostile takeover.” Myron Ebell, former head of Trump’s EPA transition team, has called for slashing the number of EPA employees from 15,000 to 5000. A 12 April memorandum from OMB’s Mulvaney lifted the freeze, and agencies now need to develop workforce reduction plans.

Also related to the workforce, an 18 April executive order calls for suggested reforms to the H-1B visa program “to help ensure that [the visas] are awarded to the most skilled or highest paid petition beneficiaries.” Some have noted that the executive order, along with the administration’s efforts to restrict immigration from some countries, is beginning to have a negative impact on  international science collaborations.

Controversial Appointees

In starting to fill environment- and energy-related positions within the administration, President Trump has stirred controversy. New EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who previously had sued the agency multiple times, said on 9 March that he “would not agree that [human activity] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” Another appointee, Department of Energy secretary Rick Perry, once called for dismantling the agency but recently said that he regrets recommending its elimination.

The administration has not yet named directors for some other Earth and space science agencies, including NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey. In a September 2006 report, the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, urged whichever administration came next to make appointing a presidential science adviser a top priority. In President Trump’s first 100 days, no one has been nominated to the post.

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2017), Trump’s early actions target science, environment, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO072619. Published on 27 April 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0