SUNY-ESF researchers brace for possible EPA funding cuts

Kali Bowden | Staff Photographer

In President Donald Trump’s proposal — released by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in March — the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget is cut 31 percent for the 2018 fiscal year.

Environmental science and restoration researchers at SUNY-ESF are bracing for impacts to research funding cuts, with President Donald Trump’s proposed Environmental Protection Agency’s budget reduction.

State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry professors expressed concern in interviews that the budget would negatively affect their scientific research.

In Trump’s proposal — released by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in March — the EPA’s budget is cut 31 percent for the 2018 fiscal year. The proposed cut would ensure nearly 3,200 EPA employees are fired, 20 percent of the agency’s workforce, according to The Washington Post.

SUNY-ESF researchers also expressed concern in interviews that Scott Pruitt will now be running the EPA.

Pruitt, one of Trump’s controversial cabinet picks, has in the past worked to file lawsuits against the agency he is now running on the behalf of coal, oil and gas companies, according to The New York Times. Pruitt was confirmed as the EPA’s new head by the Senate in February, 52-46, after fierce resistance from Senate Democrats who opposed the former Oklahoma attorney general because of his close ties with the fossil fuel industry, among other things.

Colin Beier, an associate professor of ecology at SUNY-ESF, said he was anxious about the direction the federal government was taking regarding environmental funding.

“We’re going to be disproportionately affected by these cuts,” Beier said. “It’s already difficult enough to get funding for this kind of work.”

Beier is studying the effects of acid rain in New York state’s Adirondack Forest Preserve.

The majority of SUNY-ESF’s research funding comes from large federal agencies and programs such as the EPA, the National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture, among others, Beier said. Under Trump’s proposed budget, the Department of Agriculture would face a 21 percent budget cut. The budget would also decrease the EPA’s Office of Research and Development’s funding by $233 million.

One large EPA grant researchers at SUNY-ESF recently received was awarded last year, when a joint team of faculty from SUNY-ESF and Syracuse University won $91,000 to research the cultural and ecological significance of Onondaga Lake, according to an SU News release.

Gregory Boyer, a professor of chemistry at SUNY-ESF, described Trump’s proposed cuts to the EPA as “draconian.”

The chemistry professor is also the director of the Great Lakes Research Consortium, a network of 18 New York colleges and nine Canadian affiliates looking at “all aspects” of the Great Lakes science, policy and ecology. Boyer said he expects to lose significant amounts of funding from EPA grants for future Great Lakes research, due to the proposed budget cuts.

“It’s grown into a huge economic powerhouse for North America,” he said, referencing the Great Lakes, adding that if money into research and restoration decreases for the region, so would economic progress.

Judith Enck, former director for the EPA’s Region 2 — which comprises New York state, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, among other locations — during former President Barack Obama’s administration, said she worries about the agency she left behind at the beginning of this year. Enck is now a visiting scholar at the Haub School of Law at Pace University.

She also stressed that college students pursuing environmental science careers should remain optimistic about the future. According to analysis from The New York Times, Congress will likely block the full extent of cuts Trump would like to see for the EPA in 2018.

“This is our moment to flex our civic muscles,” Enck said.


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