New House Bill Cuts Critical Climate Research. The Senate Could Stop it

June 1, 2018 | 1:01 pm
Brenda Ekwurzel
Senior Climate Scientist, Director of Climate Science

We are keeping close track of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) budget for fiscal year 2019 because President Trump’s budget proposal, released in February, put much of NOAA’s life-saving research on the chopping block. The U.S. House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations subcommittee recently passed a bill with numbers that we can compare to the president’s proposal (Figure 1)—and not in a good way.

President FY 2019 Federal Budget Request compared with House Subcommittee Appropriations Bill

Figure 1. Comparison of funding levels in the president’s proposal and the recent U.S. House subcommittee bill for FY 2019 with those enacted in FY 2017. Figure based on data provided by the NOAA 2019 budget summary and the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee report.

House slashes satellite program budget

The House subcommittee bill makes drastic cuts to the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) budget – far deeper than the President’s request and nearly 89 percent lower than FY 2017.  This is no time to reduce funding for NESDIS, as Americans rely on this data and instrumentation to help understand and prepare for extreme precipitation and wind, both of which are becoming more intense due to climate change.  For example, the GOES-R team (a NESDIS research program) is currently addressing issues in the cooling system of the Advanced Baseline Imager instrument, which was recently launched into space on the GOES-17 (also called GOES-West) satellite.  The instrument advances the capabilities for detailed information on rain, cloud and wind.

Also, there are five other instruments on GOES-17 that have been working in space since the March 2018 launch to help researchers and decision-makers understand global climate impacts. These instruments include the cutting-edge lightning mapping capabilities, which enable forecasters to see rapid increases in lightning that often signal a storm may become even more dangerous, identify areas prone to lightning-sparked wildfires, and issue earlier flash flood warnings, enabling people more time to get to safety.  Thank you NESDIS!

GOES-17 lightning mapper May 2018

Figure 2: Image from satellite GOES-17’s lightning mapper, which detected storms with lightning passing over Kansas and other states in May 2018. Source: NOAA NESDIS

U.S. House scalpel excises climate research program budget, restores other programs

The U.S. House bill keeps in line with the president’s FY 2019 budget request by taking a 38 percent bite out of NOAA’s Climate Research Program, as compared to FY 2017. This includes zeroing out competitive research grants and a 32 percent cut in regional climate data and information. The House FY 2019 bill also, unfortunately, has a 5 percent cut to the National Sea Grant College Program, relative to FY 2017.

On the bright side, the House bill does maintain the President’s request for an increase in funding for laboratories and cooperative institutes by 22 percent. Research funded by the NOAA Climate Program Office includes a study of ways to incorporate near-real time satellite information. One outcome from this study would be to provide the southern Great Plains earlier warnings on seasonal drought onset  that are associated with La Niña phase in the Pacific Ocean.  Farmers, for example, then have a better chance to prepare and minimize losses through improved advanced warning on pending drought conditions.  Other studies funded by the Climate Program Office suggest the Tennessee Valley tends to be drier during the second winter in a row with La Niña conditions .  NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System programs also contribute funding to these cited studies.

Because constituents weighed in with their elected House members, cuts to parts of NOAA’s Office and Atmospheric Research budget were not as severe as in the president’s request. .  And while the president requested a 52 percent cut to the Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Research program, the U.S. House bill just increased their budget by 14 percent.

Senate Markup for FY2019 Budget

We can see there’s still work to be done. America deserves—and can have—the best science and technology to help us understand and prepare for a rapidly changing climate. Now is the time to weigh in with Senators who are grappling with FY 2019 appropriations and share your stories of the many benefits the NOAA satellites programs and climate program office bring to your region.


About the author

More from Brenda

Brenda Ekwurzel ensures that program analyses reflect robust and relevant climate science, and researches the influence of major carbon producers on rising global average temperatures and sea level. Dr. Ekwurzel is a co-author of the fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) Volume II. She presents frequently to a range of audiences on climate science, educating the public on practical, achievable solutions for climate change.