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New federal budget could cut climate change research funds

One detail of President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget has climate scientists worried. The budget could make deep cuts to Environmental Protection Agency funding, including hundreds of millions of dollars that support research.

Environmentalists say the deep cuts to academic research and fact-finding projects could have huge consequences if they make it into the official federal budget, which the president will unveil on Thursday.

Among the cuts suggested in the proposed budget is a 40 percent reduction of funding for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, according to sources who spoke to the media. The agency’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program could see up to half its funding slashed, they said.

“A budget is a statement of priorities, and with this proposal, Trump is telling America he doesn’t care about what happens to children who are forced to drink toxic water and breathe polluted air,” Sierra Club president Michael Brune said in a press release upon the unveiling of the federal budget outline.

It’s not just environmental activists who are concerned. Scientists around the U.S. have released statements expressing worries over the Trump administration’s attitude toward scientific research.

“There are important research grant programs at EPA, NOAA, USDA and other parts of the government,” Dr. Robert Cook-Deegan of Arizona State University said in February at the 2017 AAAS Annual Meeting. “There are a lot of people in those programs worried about climate and energy research. All we have right now are question marks.”

Cutting the EPA’s budget would jeopardize public health, Elliot Negin wrote at the Huffington Post.

“If anything, the environmental challenges of today suggest that the EPA needs more money and staffing to carry out its congressionally mandated mission, especially since Congress has already reduced its budget between fiscal years 2010 and 2016 by 28 percent in real dollars,” wrote Negin, a senior writer for the Union of Concerned Scientists. Staff has also shrunk by about 10 percent in the past 10 years, he said.

The proposed slash of research funding in the federal budget would come with other deep cuts at the EPA – up to 24 percent of the agency’s budget.

Those cuts would trickle down to states that rely on the EPA not just to fund clean air and water programs, but to provide educational materials, scientific studies and training not easily available elsewhere, Negin said.

“We must not return to an era when mercury, smog, lead, hazardous wastes, acid rain, sulfur dioxides, radon and pesticides galore went unregulated. To curtail testing our water or monitoring our air quality is to court disaster,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defence Council, said in a press release in response to the proposed cuts. “Since its creation in 1970, EPA has proven to be a health-protection agency extraordinaire, providing us with clean air, water and lands. There is no turning back.”

However, a bill currently in the House of Representatives, H.R. 861, would go even farther and dissolve the Environmental Protection Agency by December 31, 2018 if passed.

The president has also proposed huge cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research into Earth’s changing oceans and atmosphere. President Trump has previously criticized NASA’s Earth Sciences program, though no official cuts have been proposed at this time.

By Kyla Cathey, Staff Writer

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