In his State of the Union address last week, President Donald Trump spent one paragraph on the environment and many more touting “energy independence” through oil and natural gas exports.
Then Monday, the White House mirrored the president’s remarks in its budget, proposing deep cuts to federal agencies and programs that promote renewable energy, invest in low-carbon transport and study climate change and its ramifications while simultaneously boosting technology for energy sources that are warming the planet, namely natural gas and coal.
While the Trump administration has sought sharp cuts on climate program funding in every budget since 2017, this proposal, which does not include the phrase “climate change,” coming on the heels of the president’s impeachment acquittal in the Senate, may be its most aggressive slashing of renewable energy research, climate science and disaster preparedness yet.
It would not only zero out funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a clean-tech incubator at the Energy Department, but it would also try to rescind $311 million in already-appropriated money. The budget would also lop the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy unit within DOE by 75 percent, down to $720 million from enacted spending levels of $2.85 billion.
These proposed DOE cuts will likely land with a thud before congressional appropriators of both parties, who broadly support both programs.
The budget takes a cleaver to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which provide data for climate researchers worldwide through satellites, by cutting at least eight climate-related programs.
The administration moved to cut NASA’s Earth Science program by 10.25 percent, or $202 million, compared to enacted levels of $1.97 billion in fiscal 2020.
It would also terminate two NASA science missions: PACE, a satellite observation program designed to observe oceans, the atmosphere and clouds, and CLARREO-Pathfinder, an orbital satellite program to quantify and attribute causes of climate change.
“NOAA and all kinds of other researchers use this data, including for understanding climate change,” Todd Wolf, senior Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Climate & Energy Program, said in an interview.
Gone too would be NASA’s Office for STEM Engagement to encourage students to pursue math, science, engineering and technology careers. It would receive no funding.
Instead, “those funds [would go] to NASA’s core mission of exploration,” the agency said in budget records. “That’s a bridge between students, NASA and the public,” Wolf said of the STEM program.
At NOAA, which falls within the Commerce Department, the administration would eliminate the Sea Grant program, Coastal Zone Management Grants and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund — all federally backed efforts to either adapt to or mitigate the effects of climate change. It also would eliminate NOAA’s Climate Competitive Research Program, which funds climate science and resilience efforts nationwide.
House Democrats seized on that proposed cut, including it in what they called a “Dirty Dozen” list of Trump’s “worst cuts” in the fiscal 2021 budget.
The program is one of several NOAA initiatives the administration said is a “lower priority” in its proposal, according to a House Democratic aide.
On the Senate floor Monday, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., upbraided Trump for unveiling a budget that would aggravate climate change.
“The Earth is on fire. Antarctica had a 64-degree record temperature this week,” Schumer said. “What is the president’s response? He douses the fire with the lighter fluid of weakened pollution regulations and then proposes cutting the fire department.”
The EPA and Interior Department would receive 27 percent and 12 percent cuts. But DOI would receive $2.4 billion to fight fires in order to prevent what is known as “fire borrowing,” when federal agencies share funding to tackle fires.
Not only would the budget make it harder for scientists to track the effects of and brace for climate change, but it would hobble programs that help states and territories recover from extreme weather and storms.
And as Earth warms, and more people live in the line of dangerous weather events, such as wildfires and hurricanes, disaster costs are on the rise.
The number of disasters that broke $1 billion in clean-up costs hit 14 in 2019, up from three in 1980, according to NOAA figures.
At the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the budget would slash federal assistance by $746.9 million, money that in part goes to disaster preparations. Part of that cut would be to the FEMA unit that maps flood hazards, which would go from $263 million to $100 million.
The federal government has traditionally contributed to the Global Environmental Fund, a pot of cash housed at Treasury and made available to developing nations for their use to meet international environmental agreements and treaties, such as the Paris climate accord of 2015.
For fiscal 2021, Treasury requested no money for the GEF, saying the U.S. is on track to meet its GEF contributions already.