The release of President Donald Trump's $4.1 trillion spending plan for the fiscal year starting in October sparked concern on Tuesday in Boulder's scientific community for its potential impact on the work that many see as critical to public safety in the face of a changing global climate.
At the national level, much of the early focus has been on the budget's slashing to Medicaid and anti-poverty efforts. But its cuts to scientific research are also being viewed warily at the local level.
A statement was released Tuesday by Antonio Busalacchi, president of the Boulder-based University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research for the National Science Foundation.
Busalacchi's statement emphasized the importance of the work in which UCAR is engaged, and made the point that it could be hamstrung through inadequate funding at the federal level.
"We are concerned that the administration's proposed cuts to research into the Earth system sciences will undermine the continued scientific progress that is so vitally needed to better protect the nation in the future from costly natural disasters," the statement said.
"This would have serious repercussions for the U.S. economy and national security, and for the ability to protect life and property. Such funding cuts would be especially unfortunate at a time when the nation is moving to regain its position as the world leader in weather forecasting."
A news release from UCAR stated that in 2016, the United States suffered 15 weather-related disasters that each reached or exceeded $1 billion in costs, and that even routine weather events carry an annual economic impact totaling hundreds of billions of dollars, influencing every sector of the economy.
"Higher up in our atmosphere, space weather events pose an ongoing threat to GPS systems, communication networks, power grids and other technologies that are essential for the everyday functioning of our nation," the release stated.
But Busalacchi's statement did not characterize the White House budget as a document etched in stone, noting that it is but one major step in a monthslong process through which Congress will have a significant role in shaping the spending road map for the budget year starting Oct. 1.
"UCAR is working with its partners in the Earth system science community to ensure that the government continues to invest in crucial research and scientific infrastructure that saves lives and property, supports our continued economic competitiveness, and strengthens our national security," he said.
Administration 'has no interest'
The science conducted in laboratories fueled by federal funding is a significant driver to the Boulder County economy. A report in March by Boulder-based CO-LABS, compiled by the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, showed that federally funded research facilities contributed about $2.6 billion to the state's economy in 2016. Boulder County contributed the largest share of any Colorado county at about $1.1 billion.
But the potential impacts of cuts to science in Colorado are hardly restricted to Boulder County.
The Sierra Club of Colorado highlighted a 70 percent cut to the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which funds about 93 percent of the budget at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden.
In a prepared statement, Jim Alexee, director of the Sierra Club's Colorado Chapter, said, "The new Trump budget makes clear that this administration has no interest in protecting the safety of our air and water or supporting the progress we've already made in Colorado to create thousands of clean energy jobs."
Stating that the budget would kill jobs at NREL and stifle innovation in solar and wind technology, he added, "This budget is nothing more than a gift to the wealthy at the expense of clear air, clean water and clean job growth."
A spokesman for UCAR said the Trump budget calls for cutting funding to the National Science Foundation — UCAR's biggest sponsor and primary funder — to $6.653 billion from the current year's total of $7.472 billion, a decrease of 10.7 percent.
The 2018 budget summary for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — which also helps fund NCAR — envisions a spending reduction from $5.762 billion to $4.775 billion, a drop of about 17.1 percent.
'The starting point'
Alan Townsend, associate vice chancellor for research at CU, has also served as a senior executive at the NSF. He noted that the Trump budget document is billed as "A New Foundation for American Greatness," and said that if that is the administration's true goal, it would be "shortsighted and wrong" to cut science severely on the way toward such an objective.
But, in light of previous budget processes, Townsend said the outcome this year may not necessarily spell doom for science funding.
"Obviously if this is the starting point and Congress controls the purse strings, if you're asking me just based on what we saw finalized in the 2017 budget ... I don't think we're going to end up very near this proposal," Townsend said.
"I think it's concerning to many that this is a starting point for discussion and negotiation. But I would hope and anticipate that Congress would take a very different approach, as they did in this current fiscal year."
Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/chasbrennan
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