Trump’s cuts put Texas science re­search at risk

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Asher Price ash­er­price@states­man.com

Pro­jec­tions of hur­ri­cane flood­ing along the Texas Gulf Coast. The devel­op­ment of a win­dow glaze to bet­ter con­trol the heat­ing of build­ings. An anal­y­sis of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween air pol­lu­tion and hy­per­ten­sion in Mex­i­can-Amer­i­cans. An ex­am­i­na­tion of the ef­fec­tive­ness of water treat­ment sys­tems in poor com­mu­ni­ties in West Texas. A look at health risks of ex­treme heat for ag­ing Hous­to­ni­ans.

All these projects, un­der­taken by re­searchers at Texas uni­ver­si­ties, were funded by fed­eral science grant pro­grams that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has said he wants to elim­i­nate.

An anal­y­sis by the Amer­i­canS­tates­man sug­gests that Texas re­searchers have re­ceived more than $100 mil­lion over the last half-dozen years from the grant pro­grams pro­posed for elim­i­na­tion in the Trump bud­get. The re­search has tar­geted ar­eas across Texas from the Pan­han­dle to the Gulf Coast.

Univer­sity of­fi­cials and re­search-

ers say that Trump’s bud­get cuts are un­prece­dented and short-sighted and that, be­cause the work is in­tended to inform de­ci­sion-mak­ers, the cuts ul­ti­mately will lead to bad pub­lic pol­icy.

“Essen­tially these grants are for things uni­ver­si­ties have par­tic­u­lar ex­per­tise in, and can serve the pub­lic by en­abling pol­i­cy­mak­ers to make good decisions and reg­u­la­tors to make sen­si­ble reg­u­la­tions and al­low tech­nol­ogy to move for­ward,” said Daniel Jaffe, Univer­sity of Texas vice pres­i­dent for re­search.

“Any­body who does re­search is con­cerned,” said Jim West­gate, a La­mar Univer­sity Earth and space sci­ences pro­fes­sor in Beau­mont and a mem­ber of the board of the Texas Academy of Science, which pro­motes sci­en­tific re­search in Texas col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

“The good news is that Trump doesn’t set the bud­get; hope­fully Congress will have some­thing more in line with what we have now,” West­gate said.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has said it is act­ing in the in­ter­ests of tax­pay­ers; in his Amer­ica First bud­get pro­posal re­leased last week, Trump has called some of the re­search-fund­ing pro­grams “ex­tra­mu­ral ac­tiv­i­ties,” from which the govern­ment should ex­tri­cate it­self.

Among the pro­grams the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has said it wants to end:

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Science to Achieve Re­sults pro­gram. Projects un­der­way since 2010 in­volv­ing Texas uni­ver­si­ties have won about $30 mil­lion.

The Ad­vanced Re­search Projects Agency-En­ergy, meant to in­vest in high-po­ten­tial, high-im­pact en­ergy tech­nolo­gies too early for pri­vate sec­tor in­vest­ment. Since 2010, the fed­eral govern­ment has spent about $70 mil­lion on Texas projects through the pro­gram, in­clud­ing bat­tery devel­op­ment in Austin and the cre­ation of bio­fu­els from to­bacco cul­ti­va­tion.

The Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion Sea Grant pro­gram has doled out at least $5 mil­lion to Texas re­searchers over the same pe­riod.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion also wants to cut the bud­gets of sev­eral re­search-ori­ented agen­cies:

The Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, which funds biomed­i­cal re­search, by $6 bil­lion, or nearly 20 per­cent. In 2016 alone, Texas biomed­i­cal re­searchers at uni­ver­si­ties and com­pa­nies were awarded more than $1 bil­lion.

The Depart­ment of En­ergy’s Of­fice of Science by nearly 20 per­cent, or $900 mil­lion a year.

The EPA’s Of­fice of Re­search and Devel­op­ment by nearly half, from $488 mil­lion a year to about $250 mil­lion.

NASA’s earth science bud­get by $102 mil­lion to about $1.8 bil­lion.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has said it wants to leave re­search to states, cities or in­dus­try.

But with lo­cal and state gov­ern­ments fac­ing their own tight bud­gets, and in­dus­try fo­cused on im­me­di­ate prac­ti­cal ben­e­fits, they are un­likely to fill the fund­ing void, ac­cord­ing to re­search ex­perts.

At the Univer­sity of Texas alone, re­searchers spent more than $350 mil­lion in fed­eral money in the 2015-16 aca­demic year.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials couched the bud­get pro­pos­als as cost-sav­ing ef­forts that are part of a larger dereg­u­la­tion scheme.

“The bud­get blue­print re­flects the pres­i­dent’s pri­or­i­ties of pre­serv­ing clean air and water as well as to ease the burden of costly reg­u­la­tions to in­dus­try,” said EPA spokes­woman Ju­lia Valen­tine, adding that agency ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt “is com­mit­ted to lead­ing the EPA in a more ef­fec­tive, more fo­cused, less costly way as we part­ner with states to ful­fill the agency’s core mis­sion.”

U.S. En­ergy Sec­re­tary — and for­mer Texas gover­nor — Rick Perry, called the bud­get pro­posal “for­ward look­ing.”

“The blue­print fo­cuses on po­si­tion­ing our na­tion to be­come more en­ergy in­de­pen­dent by uti­liz­ing Amer­ica’s great­est nat­u­ral re­source, our people,” he said.

Con­tact Asher Price at 512-445-3643. Twit­ter: @ash­er­price

UT BUREAU OF ECO­NOMIC GE­OL­OGY

Parker Med­ford works at the Univer­sity of Texas Bureau of Eco­nomic Ge­ol­ogy on a car­bon­se­ques­tra­tion project.

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