Trump’s budget seeks cuts to climate research and renewable energy programs

Source: By Chris Mooney, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Asign on a door of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The 2020 Trump administration budget overview document, released on Monday, doesn’t even bring up the subject of climate change in laying out the president’s major priorities.

Yet as in prior years, it telegraphs what the U.S. government thinks of climate change — mostly by proposing, in the fine print released individually by separate agencies, numerous cuts to climate research, adaptation, and renewable energy programs.

Congress in past years has largely said no thank you to the administration’s proposed cuts. Still, at a time when climate scientists globally say there’s barely a decade to slash emissions, and when the administration’s own scientists say effects within the United States are getting worse, the Trump administration is barely even shrugging at mounting concern over climate change.

The proposed plans for the Environmental Protection Agency are instructive about the administration’s approach.

The 31 percent, $2.8 billion proposed cut, which would leave the agency a budget of $6.1 billion, is in line with the previous deep reductions that the administration has sought each year under President Trump. So far, Congress has been unwilling to go along, keeping the EPA’s budget largely stable.

The administration, for instance, would cut the EPA’s Global Change Research office, which exists to provide scientific information to policymakers about the threats posed by climate change. Employees of the office worked on the National Climate Assessment released last fall, which warned of growing impacts of climate change, and which Trump dismissed.

The office, which has a current budget of more than $19 million and nearly 50 employees, would be eliminated in order to prioritize “activities that support decision-making related to core environmental statutory requirements,” the administration wrote.

The agency said it would still be involved in the National Climate Assessment process, as one of 13 agencies that participates. “Under the proposed budget, EPA would continue to have input into the NCA scope, review the document, and provide agency concurrence per EPA’s role as a member of the Subcommittee on Global Change Research,” the agency said in a statement.

Then there are proposed numerous eliminations of entire environmental programs, such as funding for state radon-detection initiatives; to work on improving water quality in the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Puget Sound and other water bodies around the country; and a program that offers communities grants for lead-reduction projects.

The White House has proposed similar cuts at the EPA the past two years, but even the Republican-led Congress refused to embrace the sweeping reductions Trump requested. Now, the Democratic-led House is almost certain to reject the administration’s efforts to continue scaling back the agency’s reach and ambition.

In a statement, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler called Tuesday’s document “a common-sense proposal” that would “support the agency as it continues to work with states, tribes and local governments to protect human health and the environment.”

Environmental advocates quickly called it a disaster.

“In the face of a nationwide drinking water contamination crisis, a broken chemical safety net, and devastating hurricanes and wildfires, a rational and concerned president would seek more funding to protect Americans’ health, keep our environment clean, and combat the threat of catastrophic climate change,” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. “President Trump did just the opposite.”

There were similar cuts to climate programs at other agencies.

Under the proposed budget, funding for the Interior Department’s Climate Adaptation Science Center would be cut nearly in half, to $23,900. Climate research and development and science that helps tribes adapt to climate change would also be slashed. Funding for Tribal Climate Resilience would be eliminated.

The Interior Department’s priority in the budget proposal is to continue “the administration’s strong commitment to promoting economic security and energy dominance by developing domestic energy resources.” In other words, it will expand its robust effort to mine and drill for fossil fuels on land and at sea despite calls to lower their use.

The administration plans to sell federal oil and gas leases in an area that was untouched, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, the Interior Department is considering a plan to offer leases off the Atlantic coast for the first time in half a century. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is considering whether to issue permits that would allow five companies to map the Atlantic floor for oil and gas using seismic air guns, instruments that could harm megafauna such as whales and smaller marine animals.

According to the budget, the agency will set aside areas to develop renewable energy on and off the shore, saying it would prioritize “permitting consistent with industry demand.”

At NASA, the budget eliminates two planned Earth science missions aimed at understanding climate systems: the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem mission, a satellite that would seek to understand ocean health and its influence on air quality and climate; and the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO), which would have studied energy from the sun reflected back by Earth.

The latter was one of the highest-priority projects in the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine’s 10-year survey of the nation’s science goals. Its measurements of reflected sunlight are important for testing climate models and predicting future warming

At NOAA, meanwhile, the budget proposes to eliminate three environmental programs. That includes Sea Grant, which supports environmental research on the coasts and in the Great Lakes, including considerable climate change research. (That’s not something you can really ignore if you focus on the coasts.)

Still, it’s not like these proposed cuts are something people should bank on happening.

The likelihood of them becoming reality was perhaps well captured in a news release by Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, regarding proposed cuts to the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative:

“For the past few years, no matter whether it was a Republican or Democratic-led administration, there have been attempts to cut or eliminate funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” Portman’s statement said. “And every year, we have successfully defeated those efforts and ensured that this critical program receives full funding.”