The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has rejected a Trump administration proposal to close a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration laboratory that has a division in Oak Ridge.
The budget submitted to Congress by President Donald Trump on Tuesday, May 23, had proposed closing NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory. That air research laboratory has a field office in Oak Ridge, the Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division, or ATDD, on South Illinois Avenue.
But an appropriations bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in a 30-1 vote on Thursday explicitly rejected the proposed elimination of the Air Resources Laboratory, which is part of NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. (See page 40 here.)
The Senate committee recommended providing at least as much funding for the Air Resources Laboratory in fiscal year 2018 as in fiscal year 2017. Fiscal year 2018 starts October 1.
The bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday is the Fiscal Year 2018 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. It’s not clear when the legislation will be considered by the full Senate.
NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory, or ARL, has headquarters in College Park, Maryland, and satellite campuses in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Mercury, Nevada. Under the president’s budget request, those satellite campuses, including the one in Oak Ridge, would close along with the ARL.
There are 33 employees at the Oak Ridge campus, including NOAA and ORAU workers. The primary focus of the ATDD is to maintain NOAA’s Climate Reference Network, a network of weather stations across the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, to monitor climate change.
The Oak Ridge division also works with other NOAA groups that study the formation of tornadoes, using unmanned aerial vehicles to understand tornado formation. It also works with the Air Resources Laboratory headquarters on air quality modeling and forecasting.
The ATDD campus in Oak Ridge is in a historic building that was once an emergency hospital and then a health department.
The Trump administration budget request submitted to Congress in May proposed zeroing out funding and employment at the Air Resources Laboratory, cutting base funding from about $4.7 million and 34 full-time equivalents (FTE) to $0 and zero FTE. It was part of a proposed decrease in funding for NOAA weather and air chemistry research (see page 29 of this fiscal year 2018 NOAA bluebook).
The Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill approved in the U.S. House of Representatives doesn’t appear to specifically mention the Air Resources Laboratory, but it actually includes more money, another $9.8 million, for weather and air chemistry research, increasing the total to $123.6 million. (See page 19 here.)
The Senate bill, meanwhile, recommends $108.2 million for weather and air chemistry research.
There would still be several steps remaining before any final funding totals are approved, including a House-Senate conference. It’s not clear what funding levels might be agreed to by Congress and the president. It’s possible that a continuing resolution would be approved, keeping spending at current levels.
The $53.4 billion commerce and justice appropriations bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday would fund the U.S. Commerce and Justice departments, and independent agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and others. The appropriations would be $3.2 billion below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level but $4.4 billion above the budget request from the Trump administration.
The bill recommends a $85.1 million decrease for NOAA funding, dropping the total to $5.6 billion. It would also decrease funding for NASA and the National Science Foundation, and increase funding for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration.
Under the president’s request, NOAA’s discretionary spending would be cut by about 17 percent. NOAA’s budget had been proposed at $4.78 billion for fiscal year 2018 in the Trump administration’s request, compared to the $5.6 billion recommended by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The president’s request would decrease funding by roughly $987 million.
In Oak Ridge, research at ATDD is performed in collaboration with other NOAA laboratories, government agencies, universities and private organizations. The Oak Ridge division operates two permanent research stations, one at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Walker Branch Watershed forested experimental area and the other on the DOE reservation at the Chestnut Ridge Environmental Study site. Important on-site facilities include a wind tunnel laboratory, machine shop, electronics laboratory, and chemical instruments laboratory.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
See a majority press release on the committee approval of the Fiscal Year 2018 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act here. That page includes links to the bill and a report on the legislation.
See the minority press release here.
See the NOAA Budget Office website here.
See the NOAA Budget Estimates for Fiscal Year 2018 here (see the Oak Ridge-related information starting on page OAR-30 about halfway through the document).
See the NOAA Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Summary here (see page 29 for information on NOAA’s weather and air chemistry research).
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