clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Trump’s budget would hammer climate programs at EPA, NASA, NOAA, and Energy

Strongest Storm In Six Years Slams Southern California
Last one out turn off the lights.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 can be read as a political document, a statement of his administration’s policy priorities. Many of these proposed cuts won’t get passed by Congress, but it’s a look at what Trump values.

And what’s clear is that Trump wants the US government to pull back sharply from any effort to stop global warming, adapt to its impacts — or even study it further. Under the proposal, a wide variety of Obama-era climate programs across multiple agencies would be scaled back or slashed entirely.

That includes eliminating much of the work the Environmental Protection Agency is doing to research climate impacts and limit emissions. It includes scaling back the Department of Energy’s efforts to accelerate low-carbon energy. It includes cuts to NASA’s Earth-monitoring programs. The proposal would also eliminate the Sea Grant program at NOAA, which helps coastal communities adapt to a warmer world. The document dubs this a “lower priority.”

Today’s budget outline mainly offers top-line proposals for each agency; in May, the White House will offer line-by-line detail on how it would like to fund or cut specific programs. Ultimately Congress will have the final say — and lawmakers may reject many of these proposals. But here’s what we know about Trump’s wishes:

1) Many of the EPA’s climate programs would be terminated. Trump is proposing a sweeping 31 percent cut to the EPA’s budget — from $8.2 billion down to $5.7 billion — shrinking funding to the lowest levels in 40 years. That includes zeroing out funding for many of the agency’s climate programs. Currently, the EPA is the main US entity working to monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So there’s no more money for work on the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation to control CO2 emissions from power plants, which Trump aims to repeal. (By law, the EPA would still have to work on emission rules for vehicles.) There are cuts to “international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and related efforts” — totaling $100 million. We don’t have line-by-line numbers, but that could include killing EPA programs like the Climate Resilience Evaluation Awareness Tool, which helps utilities adapt to extreme weather events.

The budget also proposes eliminating Energy Star, a voluntary certification program that helps companies release energy-efficient products, helping prevent more than 300 million tons of CO2 emissions per year. It proposes axing climate research funding for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, the agency’s scientific research arm, whose overall budget would be cut in half.

One EPA climate program that would likely survive is the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, which measures emissions from industries around the country. Congress has mandated this monitoring, and getting rid of it would require legislative changes. So the EPA could still quantify US greenhouse gas emissions — it just couldn’t very much about it.

2) The Department of Energy’s R&D programs would be reoriented and scaled back. Trump is proposing a 5.6 percent cut to the Department of Energy. And, to do that, he would impose a steep 17.9 percent cut — roughly $2 billion — from core energy/science programs intended to accelerate the transition to new (and cleaner) energy technologies.

DOE has a variety of offices that direct early-stage research into solar, wind, nuclear, biofuels, batteries, carbon capture for coal, and other technologies. But these offices also partner with the private sector to deploy new energy tech that’s closer to fruition — the sort of partnership that helped bring about the fracking boom. Trump’s budget proposes shrinking back from deployment and focusing solely on early-stage research, which many conservatives see as the only proper role of government. (Deployment, they argue, is vulnerable to cronyism and amounts to picking winners and losers.)

While we don’t have specifics, this proposal might mean ditching things like DOE’s Sunshot Initiative, which helps solar companies look for ways to cut costs. It also might mean DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy will no longer help utilities build carbon capture and sequestration technology for coal (as DOE did with the Petra Nova plant in Texas). The latter would be a striking change, since Trump has long promised to help bring about “clean coal.”

Trump’s budget also proposes eliminating ARPA-E, which funds early research into long-shot energy technologies too risky for the private sector, like biofuels from algae or flying wind turbines. And the proposal eliminates the loan programs like the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, which gave early support to Tesla. The proposal argues that “the private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research.”

Some energy experts argue that government-backed deployment is absolutely essential if the US hopes to cut emissions quickly and shift to low-carbon energy. And new Secretary of Energy Rick Perry seems to agree with this view. Here was Perry just the other day praising ARPA-E, which is now on the chopping block:

The White House, clearly, has other ideas.

3) State Department funding for climate change is axed. As part of the Paris climate deal in 2015, the United States pledged not just to cut emissions, but also to offer $3 billion in aid to poorer countries to help them adapt to climate change and build clean energy. So far, the Obama administration has chipped in $1 billion. This was seen as crucial for bringing these countries into the deal.

Trump would end all that. In his budget, he’s proposing to “cease payments to the United Nations’ (UN) climate change programs by eliminating U.S. funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds.”

This doesn’t mean that the United States is leaving the Paris climate deal altogether — the White House is apparently still debating that. But it means they don’t plan on contributing any funds toward making the deal work.

4) NASA’s Earth-monitoring programs are cut. One reason we know so much about climate change is that NASA has deployed a fleet of Earth-observing satellites since 1999. They collect data on everything from temperature and precipitation to underground aquifers and ocean currents to wildfires, soil moisture, and storms.

But NASA’s Earth Science Division has come under attack from conservatives who don’t appreciate the agency’s forays into climate science and think NASA should focus on space exploration instead. As such, Trump’s budget would trim the agency’s Earth science budget to $1.8 billion — a $102 million cut. That’d include terminating “four Earth science missions (PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments, and CLARREO Pathfinder) and reduc[ing] funding for Earth science research grants.”

The proposal derides these programs as too “Earth-centric.” For context, NASA’s PACE mission was meant to help climate scientists better understand how aerosol particles and clouds influence climate change — still a key source of uncertainty — and to monitor ocean ecosystems more closely. The OCO-3 program would measure atmospheric carbon emissions with greater precision. DSCOVR, meanwhile, will still monitor solar storms that could harm the grid, but it will no longer use its Earth-facing cameras to monitor things like ozone levels, weather patterns, or deforestation.

5) A key NOAA program to help coastal communities adapt to climate change would be gone. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant program provides grants for research efforts intended to help coastal communities deal with a wide variety of challenges. Lately, that has included climate change.

As John Upton writes at Climate Central: “Sea Grant research has helped West Coast shellfish farmers cope with water acidification, provided advice to Maryland residents about coping with worsening floods, and promoted the use of grooved nails in roofs to secure panels during storms in the Northeast.”

Including Sea Grant, Trump’s budget would eliminate $250 million in NOAA programs for coastal management, calling it “a lower priority than core functions maintained in the Budget such as surveys, charting, and fisheries management.” It’s unclear if Congress would agree to this: The Sea Grant program was established back in 1966 “to foster economic competitiveness” and has rarely been controversial in the past.

Further reading

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.