How will the Trump administration handle climate science and funding for NASA's climate programs? On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E News reporter Scott Waldman discusses the politics of NASA's climate science work.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. How will the Trump administration handle climate science and funding for NASA's climate program? E&E News reporter Scott Waldman joins me. Scott, how is the science community reacting to the Trump transition and recent comments by Trump adviser Bob Walker that NASA's climate work should be moved to NOAA?
Scott Waldman: I think there's a mix. There's certainly a tremendous amount of nerves. People are worried that this is going to lead to all sorts of cuts in terms of funding, in terms of potential satellite development. Nobody knows where it's going to go, so you have that on one hand from some of the scientists. On the other hand, others have seen political winds shift many times. They've seen conservative administrations that are sort of resistant to any kind of climate study come and go, and they're just sort of buckling down, ready to keep doing the work, like just not nervous at all, which seems somewhat surprising. I think there's a dichotomy, from what I can tell, among, you know, various scientists and federal agencies. Certainly their position and their length of service, I think, influences those that have been there longer, have seen this before, they're not as worried.
Monica Trauzzi: How politicized has the conversation on science become and what kind of debate are members of Congress gearing up for heading into next year?
Scott Waldman: Well, I think it's the debate over climate change is as political as it's going to be. I think unfortunately it may become more political. We just saw yesterday the House Science Committee, which has long been — it's run by Lamar Smith — long been conservative Republican from Texas — it's long been resistant to any kind of climate study. They tweeted out an article from Breitbart written by someone who just sort of ignores general science, highlights one or two pieces of data that he feels supports any sort of skepticism about climate science, and it shows that that's what we're going to see a lot of, that the House is going to sort of embrace that mentality. So I think in the House, there'll certainly be some sort of attacks on climate science. But I also talked to some Democratic senators who said they're going to fight this one tooth and nail. Keep in mind too, a lot of the places where this science is happening, it's not just here in — outside of D.C. and Goddard. There's a large research facility at UT Austin, Texas. There's research in Colorado. There's more research in California. So if you start looking, you know, Texas of course is a very red state. You look at some of these cuts that potentially could be coming down, it's going to be in the home districts of even some Republicans. They're not going to want to lose money, and potentially jobs that's related to NASA's earth science.
Monica Trauzzi: So any potential movement to cut science funding, climate science funding wouldn't really have legs in either chamber.
Scott Waldman: I think it could have legs as an act of pure political theater, and certainly I could see it advancing somewhat. And again, some people call this a cut. Others say it's just simply shifting resources into other areas of the federal government, like NOAA, for instance, and we could see that happening where they shift some of the climate research out of NASA and into NOAA. I don't think that, you know, some scientists say that that wouldn't really cause a disruption, that the field could survive that. So we'll see if, you know, they're willing to embrace that in the House and Senate. I know the Democratic senators, this is near and dear to their hearts and they're certainly willing to fight for it.
Monica Trauzzi: And morale at NASA? How are people —
Scott Waldman: I talked to one of the senior scientists there, Piers Sellers. He heads the division — earth science division here in Goddard, and he was — he said the morale was pretty good actually. I was surprised by that. I think he's generally a positive type — he has a positive view of the world, but he said they've — again, he's seen it before, they're used to shifts, and they're going to buckle down and just do the research and sort of let the research speak for itself. Keep in mind that a lot of what NASA does in their earth science division, I mean, it's fueling what we know about the weather every day, it's letting us know when hurricanes are coming, snowstorms are coming, tornados. To imagine that we could sort of reduce the funding for that at a time when our technology's increasing so rapidly, when we can understand the way the planet operates better and better each year, I just can't see it taking a huge hit, you know. I say that, but there's certainly a lot of people who are very worried. There's been a lot of dire statements made so far.
Monica Trauzzi: Sure. A lot to keep watching, and I know you'll be reporting on all of it.
Scott Waldman: Yes.
Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for watching — or for coming on the show.
Scott Waldman: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We will see you then.
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