The Proposed Federal Budget and the Climate

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The President unveiled his updated 2018 budget in May, and many are asking what this proposed budget will mean for the environment and specifically for climate change research. Departments such as the EPA could be looking at significant cuts as the administration seeks to keep its promise to return the agency to its "core" mission of protecting air and water quality.

The proposed budget cuts the EPA's funding by more than 31 percent, or $5.65 billion. Several programs, like those restoring the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, are facing complete elimination. Also completely losing funding are radon detection programs, lead risk reduction programs and environmental justice initiatives.

The proposed budget would also eliminate financing for the Superfund cleanup program, which provides grants to clean up some of our most contaminated sites – despite EPA Director Pruitt listing this as one of his top priorities. The budget would that the enforcement of environmental law and research into climate change would lose funding as well.

There is good news, though, as the proposed budget maintains funding for infrastructure investments for drinking water and wastewater projects. It also provides additional funds for the increased activity from the reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which is a bipartisan measure subjecting chemicals already in the marketplace to greater federal scrutiny.

The administration's budget would affect more than the EPA, however. Funding reductions at NASA would shutter a program working on ways to effectively monitor carbon emissions in the US and other countries. The SilvaCarbon program, a forest assistance program supported by the USGS and US Forest Service, would also be eliminated. These kinds of cuts appear to be part of a larger movement to cut programs involved with international climate change.

The Department of Energy's budget includes a 43 percent cut in funding for its biological and environmental research. The budget would also significantly reduce or altogether eliminate much of their climate research funding. NOAA would see cuts that would eliminate their Air Resources Laboratory in Maryland, ending their research into "air chemistry, mercury deposition and atmospheric dispersion of harmful materials." It would eliminate the genomics program at the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory which monitors and restores corals and assesses fisheries. The proposed budget would also end research in the Arctic seeking to improve sea ice modeling and predictions.

The proposed 2018 budget still faces an uphill battle. While it is the President's role to propose a budget, it is Congress's role to finalize and pass a budget. This Congress seems skeptical of many of the President's proposals – including cuts to the EPA, the Department of Energy and NOAA. Congress will spend the next few months setting its own priorities and deciding what its wants the budget to look like. Their ability to pass a budget is especially important because if they can pass a bipartisan budget, it will allow them to begin to tackle tax reform, which is a big priority for a Republican-controlled Congress.

The proposed budget sent to Congress by the President in May would mean some significant changes for environmental programs and climate change research, but we do not yet know what the final budget approved by Congress will hold for these programs. This proposal is only the beginning of the budget process. The world will be watching closely to see what happens next.

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