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Potential cuts to NOAA concern leaders in Granite State, Washington D.C.

Union Leader Correspondent

March 15. 2017 10:53PM
Leaders are worried that potential cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's budget will hurt coastal communities. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

DURHAM — The acting director of the New Hampshire Sea Grant program at the University of New Hampshire and members of the state’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., are concerned about potential cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) budget.

It was reported earlier this month that President Donald Trump will propose a 17 percent cut to the nation’s top weather and climate agency.

On top of that, Erik Chapman at UNH, says NOAA’s Sea Grant program was targeted for elimination, according to documents leaked to The Washington Post.

“The worst-case scenario is that we lose funding for fiscal year 2018, which begins October 1 of this year,” Chapman said Tuesday.

Chapman said the Sea Grant program directs 95 percent of its funding to states where monies are used to support research and education for issues related to marine and coastal natural resources. The $73 million program supports work at UNH and 32 other universities throughout the country. Locally, they partner with fishermen, municipalities, volunteers, scientists, business leaders, educators and federal, state and nonprofit programs.

“Recently, we’ve been focusing a great deal of effort to support fishermen, lobstermen and entrepreneurs that are wanting to begin aquaculture businesses. We help provide technical support to support development of sustainable, environmentally friendly aquaculture businesses that not only do not hurt our ecosystems, but provide ecosystem services — so they actually help the ecosystems that they exist within,” Chapman said.

An example of a success is New Hampshire’s oyster industry. Sea Grant helped commercial fishermen establish oyster farms in Great Bay worth over $4 million. Representative Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, highlighted this in a letter to the President written last week.

“Without the Sea Grant program’s research, private companies in New Hampshire would be unable to expand and add jobs at their current rate,” Shea-Porter wrote. She said that in her district alone, the program supports almost 100 jobs.

When asked to expand, Shea-Porter released the following statement.

“As a UNH alum who represents the Seacoast, I constantly see how NOAA funding and the Sea Grant program impact our communities, supporting everything from cutting-edge academic research in Durham to Great Bay oyster farms. I’m fighting to save these programs because they strengthen the Seacoast by supporting jobs, strengthening the economy, protecting our coastline, and allowing talented researchers and entrepreneurs to create a smarter, more sustainable future.”

Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, said that as the northeast experienced yet another strong winter storm on Tuesday, the work of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is as important as ever.

“NOAA keeps millions of Americans safe every day through their prediction and monitoring of weather events, but that’s just one of the agency’s many important functions. NOAA is helping us better understand the serious environmental and economic consequences of climate change. At a time when we need to be learning more about how to combat and cope with climate change, cutting NOAA’s budget just doesn’t make sense, and I’ll oppose such efforts,” Kuster said in a statement.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, also released a statement about the importance of the NOAA, saying it supports important work at UNH, the Mount Washington Observatory, on Great Bay and across the Seacoast.

“Cutting funding for the NOAA is shortsighted and would have a damaging effect on New Hampshire’s Seacoast economy, as well as harm some of our most fragile natural habitats,” Shaheen said.

Shaheen pointed out that NOAA reimburses New Hampshire fishermen for costs associated with at-sea monitoring, and cuts would threaten the government’s commitment to the local fishing community.

“Our small-boat fishermen simply cannot afford to pay for these requirements without this help. In my position as the lead Democrat on the subcommittee that oversees NOAA’s budget, I will fight to rally bipartisan opposition to these harmful cuts,” Shaheen said.

A spokesman for Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, said Hassan is “very concerned” by the reports that the Trump administration plans to cut the budget for NOAA. Hassan is worried about funding for university research, and is afraid a reduced budget will hurt efforts to protect the Seacoast and combat climate change.

“The Senator will fight to protect these critical New Hampshire priorities and to urge the administration to make decisions based on science, not partisan politics,” Meira Bernstein said.

Last week, the acting administrator of NOAA, Benjamin Friedman, said during a federal advisory committee meeting in Bethesda, Md., that nothing is final yet, and it will be months until the FY18 budget is complete.

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