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EPA budget cuts may affect campus research

Just a over a week ago President Trump released his preliminary budget proposal for 2018. Of all the government agencies featured in the proposal, the EPA will undergo the largest budget cut. This cut may affect research programs at Washington State University Vancouver, say several researchers who oversee government funded projects.

According to the proposal, the goal of such reductions is to reduce federal regulations that “impose significant costs for workers and consumers without justifiable environmental benefit.” The proposal reduces the agency’s budget by nearly a third, resulting in the removal of about 3,200 positions within the administration.

Some WSU faculty and students are concerned that recent developments and the president’s policies regarding the EPA could affect their research.

Eric Dexter is a Ph.D. student and a STAR fellowship recipient. The award pays for his tuition and research, as well as provides some living allowance. He said that he heard the news about the initial January freeze from his program manager at the EPA who in turn learned about it from the news. Dexter is uncertain how this will this affect his fellowship as he has not received any updates from the EPA.

One of the reasons for Dexter’s concern is a report published by CNN early this month. According to the report, the STAR fellowship can potentially be eliminated as a result of the proposed EPA budget cuts. However, Dexter is uncertain if this will affect his grant or if it applies to future grants only.

Dexter said there is no communication from the EPA.

Dexter studies plankton communities of the Pacific Coast and the spread and impact of disruptive microorganisms in bodies of water. He said more money has been spent on damages and mitigation costs of invasive species than the money spent for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

“I am 100 percent funded by the EPA,” Dexter said. The grant covers his tuition, research expenses and provides a living allowance. Dexter said he would have no income if the grant were canceled immediately. With a large portion of his research and studies behind him, Dexter said he would be able to complete his program with some support from his department. “It wouldn’t derail my research at this point,” he said, “it would just limit what I do from this point on.”

However, Dexter said that environmentalists are very concerned with the latest developments surrounding the EPA and said he would not encourage anyone to apply for the STAR fellowship at this time.

WSU Vancouver professor Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens has a research proposal pending with the EPA to study harmful algal blooms in Vancouver Lake and other bodies of water in Washington State. According to Rollwagen-Bollens, the algal blooms can be toxic and can have implications for drinking water and bodies of water used for recreational purposes.

Rollwagen-Bollens also said she did not receive any updates from the EPA regarding the funding freeze or any other cuts to the agency. However, she is more concerned with recent developments as they are affecting advancement in research.

She said the work done at the EPA does not generally make headlines, but if it was to stop, there will be a gradual decline in the quality of the environment.

Rollwagen-Bollens said that these are not good times among environmental scientists. “There is just a lot of uncertainty,” she said.

Rollwagen-Bollens said that she is concerned because the president’s agenda seems to be narrowly focused on one aspect of the EPA’s work: climate change. However, she said the cut back affects other important issues not related to climate change.

Rollwagen-Bollens said that scientists need to take responsibility for how they communicate the role science plays in society.

“Personally, I feel like it’s incumbent on me and other professionals who work with young people to do a better job of communicating about what role scientific information can play in society,” Rollwagen-Bollens said, “and not to get to swayed about people who have a particular agenda when all [that] science is trying to do is to provide information and outcomes based on evidence.”

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