politics

R.I. Coastal Resource Management Council cut, R.I. Sea Grant program eliminated, under Trump budget proposal

PRESIDENT DONALD Trump’s proposed federal budget could devastate some coastline programming in the Ocean State.
PRESIDENT DONALD Trump’s proposed federal budget could devastate some coastline programming in the Ocean State. COURTESY LILA DELMAN REAL ESTATE INTERNATIONAL
3/16/17

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget could devastate some coastline programming in the Ocean State.

The first-term president on Thursday unveiled his inaugural budget, revealing broad cuts to federal programs, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA, a U.S. Commerce Department division, provides funding to various Rhode Island coastline programs, including the R.I. Coastal Resource Management Council, a management agency with regulatory functions overseeing preservation, protection, development and restoration of coastal areas.

The proposed cuts could slash CRMC’s budget by up to 60 percent, according to a spokeswoman.

“The proposed cut in funding … would affect our day-to-day operations,” said Laura Dwyer, public educator and information coordinator. “While our regulatory mandate wouldn’t change, a cut like that would certainly impact our ability to get permits out the door in a timely fashion.”

The agency processes about 1,500 applications each year.

“It could also affect future projects and planning endeavors where there are multitude funding sources,” Dwyer added.

At the same time, the NOAA cuts would effectively eliminate the Sea Grant Program, a 51-year-old environmental stewardship and economic development program. The Rhode Island Sea Grant Program, located at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, is one of 33 programs across the country. It works on various projects related to coastal stewardship, partnering with researchers, municipalities, property owners and coastal industries, along with educational institutions like URI, Roger Williams University and Brown University.

Trump’s budget would eliminate funding for the national program, including about $2.1 million in Rhode Island. The state provides a 50 percent match, or roughly $1 million, contingent on the federal funding.

Gerald Sonnenfeld, URI’s vice president for research and economic development, said the cut would be particularly “demoralizing” in Rhode Island.

“We, as the Ocean State, and URI with such a rich history in oceanography and coastal resources, it will be very sad for us if that program does not continue,” Sonnenfeld said.

Dennis Nixon, Rhode Island Sea Grant director, says the national organization has already devised a plan to lobby Congress to reinstate the funding. Besides the Rhode Island congressional delegation, which Nixon says is supportive, the program has garnered past support from both Republicans and Democrats representing other participating states.

Indeed, former President Ronald Reagan proposed cutting the program all eight years he served in office, and each year it was reinstated by Congress, Nixon said.

“We’re going to work the branch of government that’s been supportive of us for 51 years,” Nixon said. “We’ve been here before.”

Nixon expects to know either way by summer, as the federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1. The program has enough money to run until Jan. 31, 2018, he added.

The NOAA cuts could also impact other state-based programs, including the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Reserve, which is a partnership between the federal division and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management.

Trump’s proposed cuts align with campaign promises he made to slash federal programs and bolster defense spending. His proposed budget would add $54 billion to defense spending. The Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and the Agriculture Department would be hit hardest.

Rhode Island’s congressional delegation has already largely denounced Trump’s budget. U.S. Sen. Jack F. Reed, a Democrat, called it, “a sorry excuse for a budget by any standard.

“Congress should never enact a budget this harmful to the American people,” he said.

Staff writer Emily Gowdey-Backus contributed to this report.