Trump budget goes after 50-year-old coastal protection program

Administration wants to eliminate Sea Grant, cut climate research programs.

Tybee Island, a barrier island near Savannah, Georgia, floods during a high tide event in October 2015. CREDIT: Georgia Sea Grant
Tybee Island, a barrier island near Savannah, Georgia, floods during a high tide event in October 2015. CREDIT: Georgia Sea Grant

President Donald Trump, as part of his fiscal year 2018 budget request, plans to eliminate a 50-year-old research program that has served as a leader on coastal adaptation.

The program, known as the National Sea Grant College Program, funds scientific research that benefits the fishing industry and coastal businesses. In recent years, the program, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has focused on climate change adaptation initiatives that will prepare coastal communities for the predicted impacts of climate change.

In prior years, the program has received $73 million per year. Under the Trump budget, the program will receive no funding at all. The budget to run the entire Sea Grant program for a year was roughly equal to the price of a single Navy patrol boat.

The Sea Grant program oversees a network that includes the National Sea Grant Office, 33 university‐based state programs, the National Sea Grant Advisory Board, the National Sea Grant Law Center, the National Sea Grant Library, and hundreds of other participating institutions.

The budget proposal would cut 14 full-time employees from the Sea Grant program and end federal support for the network of Sea Grant programs. With the termination of the Sea Grant program, NOAA will explore options for addressing staffing issues, such as transfers and voluntary early retirements, the administration said.


Also in his budget, released Tuesday, Trump announced major cuts to NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, where climate research programs are housed. The office would see a $150 million, or 19 percent, budget cut. At a Tuesday press briefing, Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney said, “We want to do some climate science, but we’re not going to do some of the crazy stuff the previous administration did.”

Other NOAA programs to be zeroed out as part of the administration’s budget request include the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, Coastal Zone Management Program grants, and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. “These eliminations would allow NOAA to better target remaining resources to core missions and services,” the budget said.

Overall, Trump requested a $1 billion, or 16 percent, cut to NOAA’s budget, lowering it to $4.8 billion.

NOAA, part of the Department of Commerce, provides weather and climate data that protects the more than half of all American who live along the nation’s coasts, Chris McEntee, executive director and CEO of the American Geophysical Union, said in a statement Tuesday.


These coastal regions provide more than 2.8 million jobs in ocean-reliant industries and are home to coastal properties valued in excess of $10 trillion, McEntee said. The deep cuts will affect “climate and other research programs as well as the elimination of the Sea Grant program,” he added.

Congress established the Sea Grant program in 1966 to partner researchers at the nation’s universities with public and private sector researchers in order to capture the economic and social benefits of the oceans, coasts and Great Lakes in a sustainable manner. The program was inspired by the success of the nation’s Land Grant model.

“Sea Grant excels as a conduit between the scientists and the stakeholders in coastal areas who have real problems to solve,” Cassandra Glaspie, a postdoctoral scholar at Oregon State University in the Fisheries and Wildlife Department, wrote Tuesday in a blog post on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ website.

“We should be expanding, not gutting programs that bring together academia, private citizens, industry and government, and programs that inspire young scientists to build solutions to the challenges we face,” Glaspie wrote.

Sea Grant holds a seminar on oil spill science and its use in addressing Gulf of Mexico spills. CREDIT: Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium/Melissa Schneider
Sea Grant holds a seminar on oil spill science and its use in addressing Gulf of Mexico spills. CREDIT: Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium/Melissa Schneider

The administration proposed the elimination of the Sea Grant program in the same budget that called for the elimination of all of the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional programs. Since 2010, the regional Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, has provided more than $2.2 billion for programs to improve and protect the lakes.

The proposed elimination of the Sea Grant program will make protecting the Great Lakes region even more difficult. Michigan Sea Grant, a joint program between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, has provided Great Lakes research and project facilitation for nearly 50 years.


In other regions, the Maryland Sea Grant Extension has been conducting “outreach and research to help coastal communities prepare for the effects of sea level rise and coastal flooding.” The Rhode Island Sea Grant program helps coastal dwellers fortify their homes against extreme weather.

The Trump administration’s budget leaves U.S. coasts vulnerable by cutting “vital programs and underfunding the science” that protects lives, property, and ecological resources, Derek Brockbank, executive director of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress.

“Fortunately, Congress is ultimately responsible for developing the federal budget,” Brockbank said. “They will be the ones meeting with constituents whose homes have washed away, or worse, because cuts to coastal data, shoreline restoration and monitoring programs made storm predictions worse, allowed unacceptable coastal ecological degradation and left coastal communities, their residents, and their economic futures more vulnerable.”