Photo: AP

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) appears to be on its way to being Trumpified. No, it’s not getting encased in gold. Instead, climate and conservation are out, the economy and national security are in.

The Commerce Department recently held a “Vision Setting Summit” where Rear Admiral Timothy Gallaudet, NOAA’s acting administrator talked about his, well, vision for the agency. The talk was accompanied by a slide presentation, which was first reported by the Union of Concerned Scientists on Sunday. Earther has reviewed the slides, which lay out NOAA’s mission and vision statements of yore and what it is today. They also suggest that the agency could take 50 deregulatory actions in the next 30 days to “enhance job creation” and take further actions to reduce the seafood trade deficit.

Here’s the past mission (which is still up on the agency’s website):

  • To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts
  • To share that knowledge and information with others; and
  • To conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources

And the updated one:

  • To observe, understand and predict atmospheric and ocean conditions;
  • To share that knowledge and information with others; and
  • To protect lives and property, empower the economy, and support homeland and national security

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The slide showing NOAA’s vision also showed a shift away from language about resiliency for communities and ecosystems toward one focused on national security and the economy. While the presentation clearly juxtaposes the mission and vision statements as “past” and “present,” NOAA has pushed back on the classification as a wholesale change.

“It was not intended to exclude NOAA’s important climate and conservation efforts, which are essential for protecting lives and the environment,” Gallaudet said in a statement to Earther. “Nor should this presentation be considered a final, vetted proposal.”

But these shifts are in line with what Gallaudet laid out in a talk at the American Geophysical Union’s annual conference last year for the agency, which oversees fisheries, provides weather forecast, and conducts climate and ocean research.

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And they’re certainly in line with the Trump administration’s goals at-large. Nearly every agency—but especially environmentally-focused ones—have seen their vision and actions shift dramatically away from enforcing protections and regulations and toward overturning them. Science has also often been put by the wayside, particularly climate science.

NOAA has largely avoided this to-date, in part because the agency is without its permanent head. Barry Meyers—Trump’s pick to run NOAA—has seen his confirmation drag out as he attempts to divest from Accuweather, the private weather company he owns that relies on freely available NOAA data. But now changes may be coming to the agency. At the very least, the development dovetails well with Trump’s other recent ocean policy change.

“It’s concerning in the sense that NOAA, at least at the politically-appointed levels, is falling into alignment with the rest of the Trump administration where they are looking for short-term gains and reducing emphasis on—or ignoring—longer term challenges,” David Titley, who was NOAA’s chief operating officer under Obama and now runs Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, told Earther.

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Those long-term challenges are many for coastal communities. Climate change is causing oceans to rise and seas to acidify. The former means more flooding while the latter can be a huge drag on shellfisheries. Rising ocean temperatures are also boiling coral reefs and could affect the fisheries that are tied to them.

“If you undermine NOAA ability do science or redirect work the agency is doing around climate change, that really hampers the ability of state and local government and coastal communities to respond to ongoing changes,” Andrew Rosenberg, the head of Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Democracy who also previously worked for NOAA as a scientist, told Earther.

Beyond climate research, Rosenberg said much of NOAA’s fisheries research has focused on ensuring catch limits are sustainable. The prospect of 50 deregulatory actions would likely mean ignoring some of that science since fisheries are the the main area under NOAA’s regulatory purview.

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“I’m not exactly sure what’s on their list, but 50 actions is a lot,” Rosenberg said. “I don’t see how they could justify it scientifically with the language in the law.”

The U.S. does have a huge seafood trade deficit with imports topping out at $21.5 billion vs. just $5.4 billion in exports in 2017. Trump himself has specifically called it out as something the U.S. could close, though he hasn’t presented any specific plan for how to do so.

Of course, part of what created the deficit is that U.S. fishermen nearly ran certain fisheries like Atlantic cod into the ground from overfishing, which is precisely why there are now fishery regulations in place. Perhaps that’s why the slide deck mentions focusing on farm-raised fish production, putting forward a goal of tripling it over the next 10 years.

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Any shift in priorities ultimately hinges on Congress. NOAA can request funding that emphasizes certain areas while deemphasizing others, but Congress has the last say on how much money gets spent where. Last funding year is a case in point. The Trump administration asked for Congress to cut NOAA’s climate budget. Instead, Congress kept it flat and increased the agency’s overall budget increase by $234 million.

This post has been updated with a statement from NOAA.