Trump’s Budget Leaves States Holding the Bag

What message should we take from the Trump budget's cuts to our ocean agency? States are on their own.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has called the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget a “messaging document.” So what message should we take from cuts to our nation’s ocean arm, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)? Answer: States are on their own to grapple with pressing challenges like climate change and its impacts on our coasts and oceans.

Released earlier this week, the Trump Budget would be devastating for America’s air, water and environment, with deep cuts into climate research. A 20 percent overall budget cut from current levels is proposed for NOAA, with a 37 percent cut into the agency’s climate research. What justification did the White House provide for cuts to programs that inform and advise climate understanding and adaptation strategies—like elimination of Arctic research focused on sea ice modeling and work to help understand implications of ocean acidification, which is making it harder for many species of shell-building organisms like oysters and scallops to grow their protective coverings and survive? A reprioritization from climate change to weather.

This isn’t a good excuse for the cuts; it’s an insane response. Weather is what’s happening outside when you look out the window. Climate is the long-term averages of day-to-day weather—the trends we’re seeing over time that advise us on the likelihood of sea level rise, drought or fire and give us a sense of where to protect homes and businesses from what we’ve learned are increased and stronger storms than past decades. Weather is what allows you to say that it’s hot out; climate observations can tell you that it’s the hottest day the city has experienced in the last two decades. The Department of Defense understands the value of climate modeling; the assistant secretary stated climate change “is definitely something we want to study, making sure we are resilient and adaptive to where there might be emerging changes and missions.” And if we’re going to be serious about a national infrastructure push, we should know where best to build and what kind of storms to prepare for.

However, Trump’s NOAA budget leaves states high and dry (or, rather, wet and sinking), again aiming to eliminate:

  • The Coastal Zone Management Grants Program, which funds states’ work nationwide to safeguard coastal communities from storms, protect fish and wildlife, and keep beaches open and water clean for tourists and residents to enjoy. State coastal zone managers also make sure proposed offshore industries are in line with state goals.
  • Regional Coastal Resilience Grants, which fund states and local governments to prepare and recover from coastal threats, like hurricanes, and address regional challenges that, by nature, cross state lines.
  • The National Estuarine Research Reserve System, designed to protect and study some of the most biologically-productive places on the planet from the Hudson River to San Francisco Bay.
  • The Sea Grant Program, which funds coastal researchers at hundreds of our nation’s universities to develop cutting-edge solutions to challenges like reducing the Great Lakes’ nutrient pollution and improving methods for Gulf of Mexico oyster aquaculture.
  • John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grants, which fund rescue and rehabilitation of endangered whales and other marine life that can get caught in fishing gear and strand on beaches. The budget also eliminates the Marine Mammal Commission, an independent agency that for more than 40 years has helped lead marine mammal conservation off our coasts.

Communities struggling with the real and immediate problems of sea level rise and coastal flooding, with habitats that can’t sustain fish populations and whales washing ashore dead from ship strikes and entanglement, need assistance. Instead, the government has opted to strike funding and provide only coordination and technical assistance.

It’s unclear how states could plug the holes like these. When it comes to coastal programs, states often can’t pick up the entire tab for programs that benefit the 39 percent of the U.S. population that lives along the coasts. For example, Virginia could lose their coastal zone managers altogether. As Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz asked Mulvaney in a budget hearing, “You cut regional coastal resilience grants … How are communities like mine supposed to be able to make sure they can gird against flooding when you’re cutting the very funding that will prevent flooding?”

Thankfully, the White House’s fiscal 2019 budget request is being considered “dead on arrival” with unpopular cuts and outdated numbers—in fact, exact budget caps for fiscal year 2018 spending has yet to be set. But what is clear from this messaging document is that Trump administration isn’t focused on ensuring NOAA programs that are crucial to safety and wellbeing of the 124 million people who call our oceans and Great Lakes coasts home and to the nation that benefits from our ocean economy worth hundreds of billions of dollars.  

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