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NC coastal program might lose funding under Trump

Sea Grant, a $73 million national program that aims to educate and provide statistically sound information about costal ecosystems, is at risk of being defunded after President Donald Trump proposed cutting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget by 17 percent.

The proposal, which was laid out in a memo detailing the 2018 fiscal year federal budget from the White House Office of Management and Budget, takes away more than $250 million in NOAA grants and programs, including those to Sea Grant.

“These programs are a lower priority than core functions maintained in the Budget such as surveys, charting and fisheries management,” the budget outline said.

North Carolina State University is one of 33 colleges and universities in the nation with a Sea Grant state-based program.

In North Carolina, Sea Grant focuses on addressing the state’s urgent and long-term needs in ocean, coastal and watershed resource management.

Susan White, executive director of North Carolina Sea Grant, said in an email the budget proposal is exactly that — just a proposal.

“We will continue to work with our university partners and the National Sea Grant College Program to monitor the situation as the more formal steps in the federal budget and appropriations processes begin,” she said.

White said if Sea Grant is federally defunded, the program might not be as effective.

“Sea Grant programs are federal/state partnerships – for every $2 in federal funding, the state provides a $1 match,” she said. “If resources are reduced, the scope and impact of North Carolina Sea Grant’s programs would shrink.”

The program also plays an important role in training graduate students through projects and fellowships.

“These are future leaders in science and policy arena,” White said.

Justin Hart, a graduate student who does research with UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences, has benefited from Sea Grant programming.

“Support from @SeaGrantNC keeps my stormwater research flowing!” he tweeted on March 6.

White said Sea Grant also helps to teach graduate students ways to communicate their results to varied audiences and develop lesson plans for K-12 students to improve their understanding of the North Carolina coast.

And in 2016 alone, Sea Grant supported 860 undergraduate students.

Sea Grant has provided over $3 million in funding to benefit North Carolina’s communities and ecosystems, engages about 270,000 people in Sea Grant-supported informal education programs and provides 40 communities in eight coastal counties with information about rip currents and sharks.

The budget outline said the administration wants to prioritize rebuilding the military through a $54 billion increase in defense spending in 2018, offset by specific reductions in other areas.

Beyond Sea Grant, the budget proposes defunding other environmentally focused programs, including a 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

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