Energy & Environment

Trump budget calls for slashing funds to climate science centers

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President Trump’s budget proposes closing a network of climate science centers, prompting concerns the administration will hamstring climate change research while booting employees from the federal workforce.

Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget would slash funding for the National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers, eliminating all $38 million for research to help wildlife and humans “adapt to a changing climate.”

Rather than fund all eight regional centers along with the national one, the budget instead calls for just one center, at a cost of $20 million. 

The restructuring plans follow similar steps employed by the Trump administration, where agencies with research ties are reshuffled or relocated, often prompting a reduction in staff.

“They have a track record of doing this,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director at the Center for Western Priorities, an environmental watchdog group. “In a normal administration, you wouldn’t blow up eight other regional climate centers without going through Congress. I don’t know exactly what they’re going to do, but, this being their wishlist, I won’t be surprised if they try to put some of it into action without approval from Congress.”

The administration previously moved two research wings of the Agriculture Department to Kansas City. One of those agencies, the Economic Research Service, lost nearly 80 percent of its nearly 200-plus person staff and had trouble producing required reports.

The administration is also in the midst of relocating Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff, shifting more than 150 Washington-based employees to locations across the West, leaving just 61 employees in the nation’s capital. The move is expected to break apart the team that reviews the environmental impacts of major projects.

The move ignited a fight between lawmakers and the BLM, with agency officials arguing they did not need congressional approval to move forward with the relocation.

The eight regional centers that are on the chopping block are part of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) but are housed at universities where they produce research about the local impacts of climate change.

This isn’t the first time the administration has tried to trim the number of regional centers, but it is the first time they’ve tried to eliminate all of them. Last year, Congress not only kept all eight centers, it also boosted their funding.

“Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs) provide actionable science and research that directly address many of the climate-related challenges unique to different regions of the country,” the House Appropriations Committee wrote in a report. “The Committee believes the administration’s attempt to reduce and curtail the activities of these centers is shortsighted and counterproductive at a time when our natural and cultural resources, our communities, and our health are being assaulted by climate change.”

The National Center for Climate Adaptation is currently located in Reston, Va., outside of Washington, D.C., while the regional centers are located at universities in Fairbanks, Alaska; Manoa, Hawaii; Seattle; Tucson, Ariz.; Boulder, Colo.; Amherst, Mass.; Norman, Okla.; and Raleigh, N.C.

A spokeswoman for the USGS argued the consolidation of regional centers would not harm its mission.

“Doing so continues this work while achieving efficiencies,” Karen Armstrong said in a statement to The Hill.

But Joel Clement, a whistleblower who left the Department of the Interior amid an effort to reassign those working on climate change, said that because Congress routinely ignores presidential budget requests, the administration has focused on changes that disrupt the work itself.

“You can try to squeeze the funding, but Congress may not allow that, so they squeeze the work,” he said, arguing that consolidating regional climate centers into one will “hobble those efforts.” 

Robin O’Malley, who helped establish the system of climate adaptation science centers at the beginning of the Obama administration before retiring from USGS late last year, said the attempts to limit the reach of the regional, university-based centers comes amid an Interior-wide push for greater scrutiny of the grants given to higher education.

Eliminating the regional centers would jeopardize important research on how the earth is changing, he said, giving wildlife managers local information about how species are being impacted by climate change.

“This will really impact the ability of fish and wildlife managers to understand where things are going to be changing, why they’re changing,” he said. “What is lost is the ability to manage things people love and care about. We love the outdoors in this county; we love birds and animals, and we have set up an enormous system to manage it.”

Regardless of how the USGS consolidation plays out, critics say the massive cut in funding for climate science speaks volumes. 

“The presidential budget is all about sending signals,” Clement said. “The signal they’re trying to send is: We do not value climate science.”

Tags Budget Climate change Donald Trump
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