Trump Budget Cuts NASA Climate Satellites, Renewable Research
"While Obama was in the White House, Republicans couldn’t realize their dream of defunding science.
In his most recent weekly address, President Trump praised NASA’s “mission of exploration and discovery” and its ability to allow mankind to “look to the heavens with wonder and curiosity.” But left out of his statements was the work NASA does to peer back at our home planet and unravel its many remaining mysteries—a mission targeted for cuts in his administration’s budget outline released earlier this month.
In a budget otherwise scant on specifics, four climate-related NASA satellite missions were proposed for termination, including one already in orbit.
Those missions are aimed not only at helping scientists learn more about key parts of the climate system and how global warming is changing them, but also at practical matters such as monitoring the health of the nation’s coastal waters and providing earlier warnings of drought stress in crops.
The proposed cancellations mesh with statements made by Trump, administration officials and some members of Congress who have argued that NASA should be focused on outer space and leave the job of observing Earth to other agencies. But NASA’s unparalleled experience and expertise in developing new observational technologies and launching satellites makes it a crucial part of the Earth science enterprise, many experts say.
“I don’t see anybody else who could fill that gap,” Adam Sobel, a Columbia University climate scientist, said.
While the budget outline is not the final say, as Congress ultimately controls the purse strings, the proposed cuts are indicative of an “undeclared war on climate,” as David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State and a retired rear admiral in the Navy, put it. Eliminating the proposed missions and other climate science funding to save even a few hundred million dollars is short-sighted, given the long tails of climate change’s expected impacts in the U.S. and around the world, several scientists said.
“I think that those are very, very short-term gains that ignore a coming threat” that will endanger American lives and the economy “and not in 20 years, but now,” Kim Cobb, a coral expert at Georgia Tech, said.
“It is shortsighted and not what made our nation great,” Gabe Vecchi, a climate scientist at Princeton University, said. “It is only through targeted research and sustained monitoring that we can expect to be leaders in weather and climate prediction and understanding.”
Gundi Gadesmann @GundiGadesmann
Scientists start leaving the US, expecting the EU and Asia to become the future science hubs http://spon.de/aeWtW via @SPIEGELONLINE
12:51 PM - 1 Apr 2017
While NASA’s overall budget of about $19 billion was cut by less than 1 percent, Earth sciences research was targeted for a larger share of the proposed cuts, losing about 5 percent of its roughly $2 billion budget. The proposed budget, the outline says, “focuses the Nation’s efforts on deep-space exploration rather than Earth-centric research.”
The cuts weren’t as deep as some climate scientists and advocates had feared, but many were surprised that particular missions were singled out.
“I did not expect that the president would specifically point at missions that he would like to be eliminated,” Emmanuel Boss, the science team lead of the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud and ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission, said.
PACE and the other three missions singled out—the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3, the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO), and the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR)—cover different aspects of the climate system and are in differing stages of planning and readiness. But all are missions that scientists have been trying to get off the ground for many years, to plug gaps in our understanding of Earth’s complex climate and how it is changing.
The Trump administration is aiming a half-billion-dollar cut at the main U.S. hub for renewable energy research — 25 percent of the agency’s budget, and that’s just for the final five months of this federal fiscal year.
Even deeper cuts are expected to be sought for 2018 — a possibility that has alarmed researchers in clean energy and even some Republicans in Congress.
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, or EERE, is a $2 billion branch of the Department of Energy. It is credited with helping to drive the rapid expansion of rooftop solar panels, electric vehicle batteries, LED lighting and more.
The proposed $516 million cut for the remainder of fiscal year 2017 was reported earlier this week by E&E News.
The cuts have yet to be approved by Congress, but they remain a clear signal of administration priorities.
The Trump “skinny” budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year released earlier this month suggested that intended cuts to EERE could run in the order of $1 billion, according to estimates by some office staffers and knowledgeable observers.
Several staffers said cuts of that magnitude would damage U.S. research and technological competitiveness. They suggested much of the brunt of the cuts could fall on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory at Golden, Colo., the country’s leading clean energy research facility.
“These are individuals we have in labs throughout the country, and when our funding gets cut, those are postdocs and graduate students and researchers that are gone,” said one EERE employee, who, like another in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to speak on the record and feared possible retribution for doing so. “They’re doing the research. And they won’t have jobs. And we won’t be competitive.”
Virtually all of the lab’s federal funding comes from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — $273 million out of its total federal budget of $292 million in 2016.
“I think overall I would argue that the whole scientific community is a little bit concerned what the direction and what the focus is of this budget and how much it impacts science as a whole,” said Martin Keller, the NREL director.
An official at the White House Office of Management and Budget, who was not authorized to speak for attribution, responded to a query about EERE’s intended fate in 2018 by stating that “the fuller budget in mid-May will contain greater detail.”
“The budget blueprint represents the administration’s top level proposed funding levels. The final proposed FY 2018 budget numbers will become available in May. The budget will then be sent to Congress for review and debate, at which time we will be able to provide more details,” added a DOE spokesperson, who was also not authorized to speak for attribution.
Already, Colorado’s leaders in Congress are pledging to defend their state’s clean energy laboratory.
“There’s no question that we cannot continue on the same trajectory and must identify spending priorities to more efficiently and effectively operate the federal government; however, cutting the research and development done at NREL, where for every $1 of taxpayer money invested through the lab results in $5 of private investment, is not the answer,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) in a statement to The Washington Post. “Congress ultimately controls the power of the purse and I remain committed to putting Colorado interests first.”
Americans don’t hate science. Quite the contrary. In fact, 79 percent of Americans think science has made their lives easier, a 2014 Pew Research Center survey found. More than 60 percent of people also believe that government funding for science is essential to its success.
But should the United States spend more money on scientific research than it already does? A layperson’s answer to that question depends on how much that person thinks the government already spends on science, a new study shows. When people find out just how much — or rather, how little — of the federal budget goes to science, support for more funding suddenly jumps.
Over a dozen county commissioners from Pennsylvania’s northern tier are working to organizearound an issue that directly impacts their constituents: natural gas drilling.
Organizers said Harrisburg often neglects the interests of its more far-flung counties. They described their keynote speaker as someone who’s gone against that trend– York County Republican senator and gubernatorial hopeful, Scott Wagner, has supported natural gas drilling since he was elected.
He also took the stance that climate change is probably happening, though–citing scientifically unsound evidence–he maintained that the US shouldn’t worry too much about emissions.
“I haven’t been in a science class in a long time, but the earth moves closer to the sun every year–you know the rotation of the earth,” Wagner said. “We’re moving closer to the sun.”
He added, “We have more people. You know, humans have warm bodies. So is heat coming off? Things are changing, but I think we are, as a society, doing the best we can.”"