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Trump’s budget would torpedo Obama’s investments in climate change and clean energy

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks outside the West Wing of the White House on Monday, March 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

From the elimination of major programs to the shifting of scientific priorities, the Trump administration budget proposal unveiled Thursday presents a wholesale repudiation of two main Obama administration objectives: fighting climate change and stoking a revolution in renewable energy.

At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $250 million in coastal and ocean grants and programs — many of which help ready communities for rising seas and a warmer, more acidic ocean — would be cut. Satellite programs would be trimmed. The proposed cuts, previously reported on by The Washington Post, have shaken the country’s climate science community and triggered an outcry.

At NASA, Earth sciences research would take a hit, and several research programs aimed at gathering information about climate change would be eliminated.

The Orbital Carbon Observatory mission, meant to take measurements from space of the Earth’s atmosphere and carbon dioxide levels, would be cut entirely, as would the CLARREO (Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory) Pathfinder mission. This project would have placed a spectrometer on the International Space Station to make key climate measurements that could then be fed into computerized climate change simulations.

And it wouldn’t end with science. The budget targets climate change regulations and their associated support structure. At the Environmental Protection Agency, the budget proposal guts much of the agency’s work on climate change and the environment. It would discontinue funding for the Clean Power Plan — the Obama administration’s signature effort to combat climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. It would zero out funds for international climate change programs, as well as for climate change research and partnership programs.

The proposal also would put a bull’s eye on the EPA’s Office of Research and Development — the agency’s scientific arm — cutting its budget by nearly half, to approximately $250 million.

As if that’s not enough, an EPA program to help provide clean water and sewage treatment systems to native Alaskan villages on the front lines of climate change in the fast-changing Arctic, where melting sea ice and thawing permafrost have posed threats to communities, would also be eliminated.

But the Trump administration would not stop with programs aimed at studying the climate or trying to mitigate our changes to it. It also seeks to slash renewable and advanced energy research investments and even programs aimed to help people do more with less energy (and cost).

At the Department of Energy, the budget would eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a major funder of innovative energy technologies ranging from biofuels to batteries, and a program focused on clean cars. “The private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies,” the Trump budget asserts.

The budget would shrink, by an unspecified amount, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which led Obama initiatives to advance wind and solar technologies and to increase energy savings from household products.

The budget would eliminate the agency’s program to weatherize homes in low-income communities, protecting them from the elements and saving their owners money on heating bills. That parallels a move at the EPA to dismantle the popular Energy Star program, which evaluates and brands energy-efficient appliances.

The budget also takes aim at international climate programs, in a way likely to rattle U.S. allies who until recently had trusted that the country was fully behind the Paris climate agreement, and the commitments from developed nations such as the United States to developing nations that it embodied.

At the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Global Climate Change Initiative, which helps countries adapt to climate change and shift to cleaner energy, would vanish.

So would State Department payments to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund, designed to help developing countries adapt to climate change. The U.S. had sent $1 billion of a $3 billion commitment to the program under Obama — including one controversial $500 million payment in the dwindling days of the administration. Failing to carry through on subsequent payments could significantly undermine the United States’ place in global climate diplomacy. But Trump pledged during his campaign to cancel these payments.

Even fossil fuel-oriented scientific programs, aimed at finding ways to reduce emissions from these energy sources, would appear to suffer under the Trump budget. In particular, the Energy Department’s Fossil Energy Research and Development program would see its funding “focuse[d],” as would the agency’s renewable energy office, on “limited, early-stage applied energy research and development activities where the Federal role is stronger.”

The program exists to fund research and development projects for carbon capture and storage technologies, which would benefit the coal industry by reducing the emissions that contribute to global warming. On the White House website, Trump’s “America First Energy Plan” says the administration is “committed to clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.”

— Brady Dennis contributed to this report.