Some professors are concerned for their environment-related research after President Donald Trump imposed a freeze on all contracts and grants for the Environmental Protection Agency in January.
Concern for research funding depended on the type of environmental research being conducted, which can range from the natural to social sciences. Most professors that The Lantern reached out to acknowledged that funding opportunities might be more difficult for their colleagues working specifically with the EPA or studying climate change, though many declined to comment on the politically sensitive topic.
“There’s been some political debate as to whether some research is deemed worthy of federal support,” said Ramiro Berardo, assistant professor in environmental and natural resources policy.
Berardo researches how policy actors try to influence governmental decision-making processes at the legislative and individual agency level. The bulk of his research is funded through the National Science Foundation.
In his area of study, 65 projects were submitted to the NSF and only seven were deemed “competitive,” signaling they will receive federal funding from the NSF.
With the Trump administration’s decision to review each project submitted to the EPA, the proposal process would be even more difficult for professors trying to pay for their research. Some researchers worried that these initiatives could spread to other federal agencies, like the NSF, who typically support scientific research at colleges and universities.
“We are in a high-uncertainty environment,” Berardo said.
Other professors were similarly apprehensive, but were less concerned about their specific areas of study.
Kaigung Zhao, assistant professor of environmental modeling and spatial analysis, studies climate modeling and ecosystem changes using geotechnology and is primarily funded through NASA’s Earth science program.
Zhao said each administration change brings a different emphasis on funding for NASA’s Earth science program. The Bush administration cut funding while the Obama administration invested more into the program’s climate research.
“As a researcher, I wouldn’t worry too much, but that’s only applied to me,” Zhao said. “Basically, because the pie becomes smaller for other research, you’re not really competing against yourself, you’re competing against your colleague.”
But in another researcher’s case, the pie keeps getting bigger.
Associate professor of wildlife ecology Robert Gates expressed less concern in regards to federal funding for his research because it comes from the Pittman-Robertson Act.
Congress passed the act in 1937 after hunters, sportsmen and wildlife agencies urged them to extend the already existing 10 percent tax on all firearm and ammunition sales as a way to fund wildlife conservation.
“With expanding interest in guns and shooting sports, that pot of money is growing,” Gates said. “If you look at my particular area, I’m not terribly concerned about our base of funding.”