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Trump’s budget wants the US to stop watching the planet

NSF and NIH see huge cuts restored, but anything environmental is in trouble. Today, the Trump administration released a proposed budget that called for massive cuts to science research across the federal government. But Trumps's budget was accompanied by a second document that rescinded some of the cuts, even while complaining that doing so was a bad idea. Meanwhile, drastic cuts to environmental and renewable energy programs remain in both budget versions. The confusion was caused by last week's bipartisan budget deal, which raised caps on both military and domestic spending. The Trump administration had been planning on working within the caps and raising military spending while cutting back elsewhere, including on scientific research. The budget deal, however, raised military and domestic spending, which would suddenly infuse the latter with lots of extra cash. In response, the Trump administration released an addendum in which it reset a few of the priorities in light of the budget deal. So what we have is a view into the Trump administration's actual intentions for science, along with some indication of what it will do now that Congress has forced its hands. While the Trump administration has adjusted to the additional cash allocated by Congress, it's not happy about it. Or at least happy about all of it. "The administration strongly supports the overall defense spending levels included in the bipartisan cap deal," the budget addendum reads. " However, given the current fiscal situation, the administration is not proposing a Budget at the new non-defense caps. The administration does not believe these non-defense spending levels comport with its vision for the proper role and size of the Federal Government." That vision is detailed in the original budget that was also released today, which would have been catastrophic for scientific research. The National Science Foundation would have lost more than a quarter of its funding. So would the National Institutes of Health, which is responsible for most of the biomedical research funding in the United States. Various other agencies would see similarly large cuts. Given the money by Congress, however, the Trump administration has reversed many of its planned cuts. Rather than being reduced to shells, the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health will both stay flat if Trump's budget is adopted. So, while the administration doesn't want the money, it's willing to spend the money on science if it has to. Or at least some science. A large array of programs that were targeted for cuts or complete elimination in the original budget aren't rescued in the addendum. While the cuts here are heavily biased toward climate and environmental programs, those aren't the only things targeted. Among the items targeted for elimination is the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST. The plan was to build this using the optical hardware of a spy satellite that was donated by the intelligence community. Once in orbit, it would scan the entire infrared sky using a wide-field lens, allowing large catalogs of different objects, including near-Earth asteroids, to be generated. The budget document more or less says that NASA's getting the James Webb Telescope, and shouldn't expect another so soon: "developing another large space telescope immediately after completing the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope is not a priority for the Administration." Don't tell them about Spitzer and Chandra. If you think it's only a joke to suggest that the Trump administration would terminate an active observatory once we've gone through the expense of putting it in orbit, well, then you haven't read the rest of the budget proposal, which attempts to follow through on earlier threats to gut NASA's Earth-observing missions. Two are not yet launched. One is a satellite called CLARREO pathfinder, which is intended to develop instruments for a follow-on satellite to produce detailed climate records. Another, PACE, would track ocean-atmosphere interactions. Two other satellites would have specific instruments shut down— one of them an Earth-observing camera championed by Al Gore that's been targeted by every Republican administration since he left the Vice Presidency (the Bush administration shelved the working hardware rather than put it in orbit). But the most striking thing is the call to shut down the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, which has only been in operation for less than four years. The ability to monitor Earths' carbon dioxide fluxes was considered so important for following climate change that NASA built a second after the first was lost in a launch accident. The Trump Administration would now shut it down. It's not only in space where environmental monitoring would be cut. For the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), there is a clear theme to the budget request: efforts to collect data or study our home planet get funding cuts, and climate-related efforts doubly so. Both agencies are cut by about 20 percent in total. The only increases in NOAA's budget are for facilities or operating costs, with the exception of work to incorporate data from new European weather satellites. About 250 positions would be cut from the National Weather Service, with another 25 cut from the Tsunami Warning Program as one of the two US Tsunamic Warning Centers would be shut down. A NOAA summary document notes that "Support for [tsunami] preparedness education, outreach, and innovation research will cease." Funding for development of weather forecast models, hydrological models, ocean observations and ocean acidification research, climate research, and university partnerships would all be cut. Although the budget seems to reverse last year's call to scrap several future weather satellites—endangering weather forecasting as older satellites die— it cuts $565 million from two satellite programs without really explaining how that would be done. A host of NOAA programs would be slated for complete termination, including major grant programs funding coastal research (like Sea Grant), the Office of Education, Arctic research, several fisheries research programs, and the Big Earth Data Initiative (which was created to make federal data more accessible). At the USGS, earthquake, volcano, water resources, and coastal work would all take a significant hit in the neighborhood of 10 to 20 percent. Ecosystems-focused programs come in for a whopping 40 percent cut, while the Energy and Mineral Resources program would be the sole recipient of a budgetary boost (about 15 percent). The EPA would also see cuts to its research, as a program that allowed the Agency to fund research at universities would be eliminated. But it would also see its ability to do anything with the research curtailed. The EPA had a funding program to help states comply with regulations that result from the Clean Air and Water Acts; the Trump administration wants to eliminate it, taking what had been a funded federal mandate and de-funding it. Energy Star's budget would be zeroed out, and appliance makers would be asked to pay fees to use its labels. Another section suggests that the EPA's mission doesn't involve helping companies address climate change. " The Budget also proposes to eliminate funding for several voluntary partnership programs related to energy and climate change," another section reads. " These programs are not essential to EPA's core mission and can be implemented by the private sector." Cleanup of Superfund pollution sites was also slated to be cut, but will be restored given the Congressional budget. Reading the budget documents, it's hard to escape the impression that the administration would simply rather not know about the world around us, even when that knowledge could be essential to saving lives and property. But there are also hints that they do not want the public to know what it's missing, as the budget would cut off several sources of public-facing science. Funding for National Heritage Areas, in which the government helps preserve significant privately owned sites, will be eliminated. So will money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. As will NASA's Office of Education. The good news is that Trump proposed a similarly draconian budget last year, and Congress ignored it. The seriousness of this year's proposal was already undercut by the fact that Congress pre-allocated more money than the administration wanted. Still, as a window into Trump's view of the role of science, the documents present a grim picture.

Trump’s budget proposal is out and he really wants to kill ARPA-E

Nuclear is the big winner in FY 2019's proposed budget. On Monday afternoon, the Trump Administration released a budget proposal (PDF), including new figures for the Department of Energy (DOE). This budget proposal is just an opening salvo — Congress must approve the budget before it takes effect, and without a doubt there will be negotiations over the details. This year's suggested changes to the DOE budget track the ones found in the presidents first budget proposal in 2017. Notably, the proposed budget yet again eliminates the popular Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (or ARPA-E) program, which has funded early-stage energy research through a federal grant program for years. The main text of budget proposal says the DOE ought to receive $29 billion, down from about $30.1 billion, but an addendum text adds another $1.533 billion to the DOE budget, which would reflect a budget increase of about $500 million over what the DOE received in 2017. However, despite a relatively stagnant budget for the DOE, renewable energy programs will be cut dramatically beyond the elimination of ARPA-E. Under the plan, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy sees its budget cut from around $2 billion to $696 million (PDF). ARPA-E was slated for elimination in Trumps budget proposal last year, but Congress ended up allotting the energy projects incubator $15 million more than it was initially supposed to receive. The program provides grants to early-stage energy-related startups in every state, so red states and blue states alike benefit. ARPA-E has successfully funded not just renewable energy programs, but it also funds energy efficiency research and vehicle fuel research. But this year the Trump Administration is trying to kill it again, eliminating the entirety of the programs $305 million from the DOEs budget. In a document detailing the elimination (PDF), the administration writes: there has been concern about the potential for ARPA-E's efforts to overlap with Research & Development (R&D) being carried out, or which should be carried out, by the private sector. (On the contrary, ARPA-E's directive is to fund technology that is uniquely too early in its development for private sector funding.) The document goes on to say that the Energy Department should redirect any unobligated balances in ARPA-Es coffers, and transfer any remaining contracts elsewhere in the DOE, to ensure full closure of ARPA-E by mid-2020.Other programs that the Trump Administration wants to kill include the Title XVII Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program, which provides loan guarantees for clean energy programs; the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program, which admittedly has not provided a new loan since 2011; and the Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program (PDF), which works on "tribal energy sufficiency." The administration says all those programs can be managed by the private sector. Even if the Administration is able to kill ARPA-E, there's still money set aside for federally-funded research. The $1.5 billion addendum allocates $1.2 billion to fundamental scientific research pertaining to Americas energy future, although details on that are slim. Other items in that addendum include an additional $200 million for Fossil Energy Research and Development to fund research and development (R&D) of clean coal technologies, on top of the $300 million R&D budget that the Office of Fossil Energy would already receive through the proposed budget. A mere $120 million of the addendum's dollars would be definitively dedicated to sustainable transportation, renewable energy, and energy efficiency technologies including energy storage, renewable generation, smart buildings, and electric vehicles. The Department of Energy is responsible for the nations nuclear stockpile, and a lot of the funding would go to maintaining and upgrading that. The Budget makes significant investments in design and construction of facilities, with an emphasis on infrastructure related to strategic materials (e.g., uranium, plutonium, tritium, lithium) that are critical to the nuclear weapons stockpile, the proposal notes. It also includes funding for efforts to remove nuclear materials from insecure areas around the world and helping countries develop strong programs to secure those that remain. Additionally, $445 million will be dedicated to exascale computing and $105 million will be dedicated to quantum computing advancements. $757 million will be dedicated to advancing nuclear energy, prioritizing support for early-stage R&D on advanced reactor technologies, including small modular reactors, and advanced instrumentation and manufacturing methods. The proposed budget also will include money to find an interim storage program for nuclear waste while the administration pushes forward with the licensing of Nevadas Yucca Mountain geologic repository, which has been proposed as a long-term storage site. New Mexico's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) , which houses nuclear waste from weapons development, is also funded through the DOE. Finally, about $180 million of the DOE budget would be dedicated to grid modernization a joint effort funded by the Office of Electricity Delivery, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and the new Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response.