Fears Trump Would Gut Climate Agencies Were Overblown

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Scientists and activists who claimed President Donald Trump would gut the scientific capabilities of federal climate and weather agencies can breath a sigh of relief.

Trump’s budget does cut dozens of federal climate programs, but the deep cuts many feared would hit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) didn’t materialize.

For months, activists warned the White House could gut climate programs and data through draconian budget cuts. Some scientists were so concerned they began downloading government data, and others organized a political march in “support” for science.

NOAA satellites won’t fall out of the sky and NASA will still conduct climate science, says Ryan Maue, a meteorologist and adjunct scholar with the libertarian Cato Institute.

“Scientists lose credibility as policy advisors when they latch onto conspiracy theories created by activists,” Maue told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The rumors and speculation that led to hysterical overreaction turned out to be unfounded.”

Trump’s budget proposal maintains funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) climate monitoring satellites “to provide forecasters with critical weather data to help protect life and property,” according to the plan.

The budget also expands NOAA’s ability to use commercial weather data to improve its weather models, and it gives more than $1 billion to the National Weather Service to maintain the agency’s forecasting abilities.

Trump does recommend cuts to “lower priority” NOAA marine programs amounting to $250 million for “grants and programs supporting coastal and marine management, research, and education.”

The White House only recommended a 0.8 percent cut to NASA’s budget for 2018. NASA’s Earth science program, which conducts global warming research, will have its budget cut by $102 million — a 5 percent cut.

The budget also “terminates four Earth science missions … and reduces funding for Earth science research grants.”

For perspective, Trump’s proposed NASA budget is $600 million more than President Obama requested for the space agency in 2016. NASA gets more money in Trump’s budget than the former administration predicted it would need by 2018.

Other federal agencies saw climate and green energy programs eliminated, but those don’t really involve raw climate data collection. Some activists still sounded the alarm over the budget.

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, said Trump “doing the bidding of ExxonMobil, Koch Brothers, and other fossil fuel interests in attempting to curtail scientific research into human-caused climate change.”

“Our worst fears are now being realized,” Mann told the New Republic of the budget cuts.

Are these the deep cuts activists fretted over?

“People that work there are going to have to make tough choices, and maybe that means not being able to maintain data sets in the same way that they have over the last several years,” environmental writer Eric Holthaus told NPR in December.

Holthaus was one of the first to sound the alarm on budget cuts crippling the ability of NOAA and NASA to maintain climate databases and conduct research.

In early March, the media leaked a draft of NOAA’s budget showing 17 percent cuts, including $513 million in cuts to the agency’s satellite data division. Popular meteorologists decried the leaked document.

“I see this as the undeclared war on climate research (and maybe climate monitoring),” meteorologist David Titley told Climate Central in early March.

“Any weakening of our technological, scientific, and human capabilities related to weather and climate places American lives and property at risk,” echoed Marshall Shepherd, director of atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia.

“The proposed cuts are huge and would cripple the ability of the National Weather Service to improve the quality of weather predictions provided to the American people,” Cliff Mass, a Seattle-based meteorologist, wrote in his blog.

As Maue notes, Trump’s budget maintains NWS weather forecasting funding and maintains NOAA’s satellite capabilities.

“By funding the National Weather Service and investing in the future of weather prediction, the Trump administration must see the huge economic benefits of accurate weather forecasts and timely warnings,” Maue said.

“In order to maintain a high return on investment, we should continue to prioritize areas where the NWS excels and cannot be replaced by a crummy app,” Maue said.

The White House will release its full budget proposal in May. That’s when more details will come out on NOAA’s overall budget.

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