The national $73 million Sea Grant program, which includes about a dozen researchers affiliated with the University of Maine, could be eliminated if Congress approves drastic budget cuts proposed for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by President Trump.
Funding for the state’s Department of Marine Resources and for collecting weather and climate data in the Gulf of Maine also could be put at risk by the president’s proposal.
Paul Anderson, director of the Sea Grant program at University of Maine, said Tuesday that the money NOAA has funded for the program has been “money well spent” because it has helped draw additional funding to Maine and has helped spur economic development.
“I think [Trump] has just got a fundamentally different attitude about government,” Anderson said Tuesday, without going into further detail. “What [people can do to try to protect the program] is write to our congressmen and senators.”
Trump’s administration already is considering slashing funding for the U.S. Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, and for the Environmental Protection Agency, which provides about 20 percent of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection annual funding. Now, according to the Washington Post, the federal Office of Management and Budget is looking to cut funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by 17 percent.
The sharpest reductions for the agency would be applied to its Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, which would lose $126 million, or 26 percent, of its current budget, and NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, which would lose $513 million, or 22 percent, of its current funding, according to the Post report. The satellite data division includes the National Centers for Environmental Information, which is considered a key repository of climate and environmental information.
Portions of NOAA’s satellite data program help oversee the federal Integrated Ocean Observing System, which consists of several regional weather buoy networks that collect and stream live data about ocean conditions such as water and air temperature, wave height and wind speed. The Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems, which collects data from dozens of coastal weather stations and buoys positioned off southern New England and the Gulf of Maine, is part of IOOS.
The national Sea Grant program supports coastal research and community education programs at 33 universities across the country. The Sea Grant program affiliated with University of Maine gets approximately $1.2 million each year from NOAA and employs roughly a dozen people full time, according to Paul Anderson, who heads the program in Maine.
He said the Sea Grant program in Maine, which raises 50 cents in funding from alternative sources for every federal dollar it receives, is “relatively small” compared to other states but has bought “a lot of value” to Maine.
Among other things, projects in Maine funded through the Sea Grant program have included research on lobster biology, aquaculture techniques and coastal erosion, which in some places is threatening people’s homes, Anderson said.
While Sea Grant has worked with some businesses on things like aquaculture research, Anderson added, all of the findings resulting from its studies are public. Many of its projects have been conducted in coordination with towns or other agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as they try to address issues such as shellfish habitat or shorefront erosion, he said.
Anderson said he has discussed the matter with members of Maine’s congressional delegation and that he hopes the president does not eliminate or drastically cut funding to the program. He said he expects to get more details in May about how Sea Grant could be affected by potential budget cuts.
On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that Trump’s proposed cuts to NOAA also would a $250 million reduction in coastal research programs that help seaside communities for rising seas and increasingly violent storms.
Other entities under the NOAA umbrella that could be affected by budget cuts include the National Marine Fisheries Service and National Weather Service, though Trump’s outline limits reductions to those agencies to 5 percent, according to the Post report. In Maine, the weather service has forecasting offices in Gray and Caribou.
According to DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols, the department is expected to receive $3.8 million from NOAA over the course of the state’s 2016-2017 fiscal year, which represents approximately 18 percent of the department’s total budget of $21 million,
“The funds support a range of critical activities including enforcement by Marine Patrol in federal waters, scallop research, recreational fishing data collection, and portside catch sampling, to name a few,” Nichols wrote Tuesday in an email.
DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher is concerned about what effect any cuts to NOAA might have on Maine’s commercial fishing industry, Nichols added, but it is too early to comment further or to speculate on what effects may result from the ongoing federal budget negotiations.
Earlier this week, a group of senators that include Susan Collins and Angus King sent a letter to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney objecting to the “harmful” budget reductions being considered for NOAA. Of “serious concern,” the senators wrote, is the proposed cuts of more than 20 percent to NOAA’s research and satellite data programs.
“These deep reductions will have a negative impact on our nation as we rely on timely, accurate environmental monitoring and other services from NOAA that help to secure our communities and boost our economies,” the letter indicates. “For example, the U.S. military is heavily reliant on the forecasts and imagery provided by NOAA satellites … for navigation on land, air, and sea. The military also relies on NOAA’s forecasts for preparedness, response, and recovery when faced with extreme weather events.”
The Sea Grant program, the senators added:
— Had an economic impact of $575 million in 2015, representing an 854 percent return on federal investment.
— Created or sustained close to 3,000 businesses and 21,000 jobs annually in industries ranging from the development of sustainable aquaculture in Maine to increased coastal resilience in the Gulf of Mexico.
— Has supported nearly 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students, training the next generation to adequately protect our coastal economies and communities.