By Georgina Gustin
May 26, 2017
‘I think we’re going to see a huge backlash,’ said former Bush EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman.
Decimating. Outrageous. Inexplicable. Mind-boggling.
Those were just a few of the terms that former federal agency leaders used to describe President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal and the potential cuts to climate change programs.
“When you look across the federal agencies, it knits up to a narrative,” said former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan, who served under President Barack Obama.
In a call with reporters Thursday, former leaders of agencies with climate change programs in their purview made their cases against Trump’s budget proposal. Released Tuesday, the budget calls for cuts across the agencies, from more than 30 percent at the Environmental Protection Agency—the hardest hit of all—to 12 percent at the Department of Interior.
The story, the agency leaders said, was clear: The Trump administration, driven by ideology, is attempting to take a whack at climate-related programs, even those central to driving jobs and innovation.
“You cannot have a thriving economy if you don’t have a healthy environment,” said Christine Todd Whitman, who led the EPA under George W. Bush. “I’m terribly worried about what I see in this budget. The cuts to science … I think we’re going to see a huge backlash, and I think Congress is going to step up and put this money back in.”
Current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his allies in Congress have said that many of EPA’s duties should be shifted to the states, given what they see as the agency’s overreach at the federal level. But with a 25 percent cut to state grants, as Trump has proposed, “it’s going to be very difficult for states to do the jobs they have to do,” Whitman noted.
Former NOAA Administrator and environmental scientist Jane Lubchenco, who worked in the Obama administration, said the climate change research programs within the agency could see cuts of 22 percent. The agency is also working on weather prediction programs that Lubchenco said would be cut or eliminated under the Trump proposal.
The budget proposal calls for “a totally inexplicable cut to the program that is specifically designed to begin harmonizing the weather models with the climate models,” she said. “Our weather models are very good at predicting weather up to 10 days, and climate is much longer-term than that.”
The Interior Department would see a 12 percent cut across the agency, but a boost to Bureau of Land Management programs for onshore oil and gas operations.
“It’s really remarkable, how unbalanced it is,” said David Hayes, deputy secretary of the Department of Interior under Obama, noting Trump’s proposed $24 million—or 14 percent—increase for onshore fossil fuel programs at BLM. “The idea that the BLM will lead some renaissance and increase significant oil and gas development rings false.”
Jeff Navin, a former Department of Energy chief of staff under Obama, said the potential cuts could mean the U.S. cedes its leading role in developing renewable and energy efficient technology to other countries that are on a clean-energy path.
Trump’s budget would decimate science program across the agency, Navin said, and could lead to the loss of 17,000 scientists and researchers.
He noted that 192 countries have committed to the Paris climate agreement and its target of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
“We are going to be set back at a time when we really need to be moving forward,” he said. “Time, in a lot of ways, is running out. This could really box us in.”