Science Policy & Funding News

White House Budget Plan Slams Climate and Environmental Programs

The spending blueprint unveiled yesterday precedes a detailed budget proposal expected later this spring. Democrats declared the newly released plan "dead on arrival."

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The Trump administration’s $1.15 trillion proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2018, made available in outline form on Thursday, will add $54 billion to defense spending while squeezing a roughly equal amount of funding from nondefense and nonentitlement agencies and programs, including Earth and space science agencies.

Among the most squeezed would be the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The White House’s budget blueprint would slash EPA funding to $5.7 billion, a $2.6 billion, or 31%, cut from its current budget of $8.2 billion. The budget for the Commerce Department, which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), would fall 15.7% from its current level of $9.2 billion to $7.8 billion. The Department of the Interior (DOI) would receive $11.6 billion, a $1.5 billion, or 12%, cut down from its current $13.2 billion level.

The proposed budget would eliminate an Obama administration foreign assistance program known as the Global Climate Change Initiative. According to the blueprint, the proposed budget also “fulfills” President Trump’s pledge to stop payments to United Nations climate change programs.

Fiscal year 2017 federal government spending for programs and agencies are currently under a continuing resolution, which maintains the prior fiscal year’s funding levels. This article specifies budget reductions or increases as compared to the 2017 continuing resolution level. Numbers in the budget and in this article are rounded.

At a briefing yesterday, White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Mick Mulvaney spoke about funding to address climate change. “I think the president was fairly straightforward,” he said. “We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that a waste of your money to go out and do that, so that is a specific tie to his campaign.”

The budget proposal skimps on the details, providing no numbers for some agencies. It says nothing about the National Science Foundation. The administration plans to release the full budget later this spring, which also will include details about the president’s pledge for a $1 trillion infrastructure program, according to the blueprint.

Dead on Arrival

The budget request was immediately panned by Democratic lawmakers, as well as scientists, environmental groups, union leaders, and even a number of Republican legislators.

The budget proposal is “dead on arrival,” according to Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He called the proposal “an irresponsible political statement” and said that cuts will have serious public health and environmental consequences.

The budget request “is worse than I thought possible,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, noting cuts to EPA, climate research, and clean energy programs.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that although he appreciates that the budget increases defense spending, “these increases in defense come at the expense of national security, soft power, and other priorities.”

Hollowing Out the EPA

“How exactly does allowing industrial plants to pollute our air and drinking water put America first?” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asked in a statement, adding that the proposed budget “hollows out” the EPA. “How does pulling the rug out from scientific research and technological innovation put America first?”

The proposed cuts to EPA will discontinue funding for the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to limit power plant emissions, international climate change programs, and climate change research and partnership programs. EPA’s Office of Research and Development would drop to $250 million, a cut of about $233 million. Funding would end for more than 50 EPA programs such as the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program and Energy Star grants.

The proposed EPA budget “is insanity,” said John O’Grady, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Council 238, which represents about 9000 EPA employees. This budget proposal “is millionaires and billionaires trying to basically get rid of any environmental regulation at all,” he told Eos.

Climate Science Cuts

Mary Glackin, former deputy under the secretary of commerce for NOAA operations, told Eos that the proposed cuts to climate science “are consistent” with promises made by President Trump.

With sea level and extreme weather events on the rise, she questioned “why the Administration wouldn’t want to position the U.S. to be as informed as possible such that we can mitigate and adapt [to climate change] as needed.”

“It is like throwing away your binoculars and compass just when you are entering uncharted territory,” added Glackin, who now heads the science and forecast operation at the Weather Company, headquartered in Atlanta, Ga.

NOAA Programs

The budget would zero out more than $250 million in NOAA grants and programs that support coastal and marine management, research, and education, including the Sea Grant program. Funding for the National Weather Service would be maintained at more than $1 billion.

The budget also would continue development of NOAA’s current generation of polar orbiting and geostationary weather satellites, allowing the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite programs, which provide critical weather data, to stay on schedule. JPSS-1 currently is scheduled to launch later this year, with JPSS-2 launching about 4–5 years later, after which two follow-on launches are planned.

The White House document released yesterday says that the proposed budget will achieve annual savings from NOAA’s Polar Follow On satellite program, which includes the development and launch of a third and fourth satellite in the JPSS program. However, experts on NOAA’s satellite program, which helps provide accurate and timely weather forecasts and warnings of extreme weather events, told Eos that they questioned how such savings are possible while ensuring continuous polar satellite coverage.

Glackin said that she is pleased that the administration is continuing JPSS “because it is essential to move forward with the program. Its follow on is equally vital but it isn’t clear how savings are achieved,” she said. “I suspect there are large and likely risky assumptions associated with the savings, and for critical programs like this it will be essential to understand those assumptions.”

Funding for the Interior Department

In the Department of the Interior (DOI), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) could undergo a cut of about 15% under the proposed budget. The budget description released by OMB yesterday states that USGS would receive “more than $900 million.” USGS’s current budget is $1.06 billion.  Exactly how much that would reduce the agency’s budget depends on the final proposed numbers for FY 2018 and what the numbers turn out to be for FY 2017. Julie Palakovich Carr, cochair of the USGS Coalition and public policy manager for the American Institute of Biological Sciences, which is based in McLean, Va., told Eos that a 15% cut from the 2016 funding level “would seriously harm the critical services provided by the USGS.”

In other language about DOI, the budget blueprint says the that programs in the department that support energy development on public lands and in offshore waters would receive increases.

NASA Budget Steady, but Earth Science Missions Take Hits

Despite the steep cuts to science envisioned in the proposed budget, NASA’s overall funding would remain largely unchanged at $19.1 billion, a 0.8% decrease from its current level of $19.2 billion. The budget would provide $3.7 billion in FY 2018 for the Orion crew vehicle and Space Launch System being developed for missions by human crews to Mars and other potential solar system destinations and a related ground system.

NASA’s Earth science portfolio would drop to $1.8 billion, down $102 million, 6.3% less than its current $1.92 billion level. The proposed budget will eliminate four climate-related satellite missions. Those include the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE), Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3), Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO),  and the operational Deep Space Climate Observatory’s (DISCOVR) “Earth-viewing instruments.” The budget would support initiatives for smaller and less expensive satellites, but it would cancel the Asteroid Redirect Mission and eliminate NASA’s education office.

Joel Parriott, director of public policy for the Washington, D. C.–based American Astronomical Society, said that the relatively high top line for NASA “is remarkable. The most significant good surprise for us is the $1.9 billion for planetary science.” That would be a 16.5% increase above the current $1.63 billion level for NASA planetary science.

If that funding level survives the lengthy process by which Congress sets actual budget numbers months from now, “we’d obviously be thrilled,” he added. However, Parriott said that he would not want an increase in planetary sciences to come at the expense of the other divisions in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Instead, he noted, “we’ll be asking Congress for similar treatment for all the [NASA] science divisions.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: In response to President Trump’s budget proposal, the American Geophysical Union’s Executive Director/CEO Christine McEntee issued a statement yesterday expressing that the international organization of Earth and space scientists is “disheartened and significantly concerned by the president’s budget proposal, which clearly devalues science and research.”

Citation: Showstack, R. (2017), White House budget plan slams climate and environmental programs, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO070109. Published on 17 March 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0