Retired LANL Scientists: Attacks On Science, EPA Are Foolhardy, Dangerous

By retired LANL scientists: Chris Barnes, Ph.D.; Fairley Barnes, Ph.D.; James Bradbury, Ph.D.; James Cost, Ph.D.; Margaret Cox, Ph.D.; Larry Deaven, Ph.D.; Terry Foxx; Mikkel Johnson, Ph.D. and Laboratory Fellow; Charles F. (Chick) Keller, Ph.D.; Arvid S. Lundy; F.J. (Jeff) Martin; Caroline (Cas) Mason, Ph.D.; Rodney (Rod) Mason, Ph.D.; Donald A. Neeper, Ph.D.; Cheryl Rofer; Marvin VanDilla, Ph.D.; David Watkins, Ph.D. and Mike Williams, Ph.D.

On April 22, New Mexicans across the state stood up for scientific integrity in the face of attacks on the role of science in our daily lives.

That day’s Marches for Science were held across the state in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Socorro and Silver City. Thousands of New Mexicans marched in an unprecedented movement to support the professionals who advance our society through science.

Attempts to stifle science through defunding and staff cuts are against any nation’s best interests. In the United States, untold advancements in our society have arisen through public support of research into energy, medicine, technology and education. It is not an overstatement to say Americans enjoy some of the best quality of life in the world due to our proactive commitment to scientific exploration and the diligent application of its findings.

Scientific advancement is also key to maintaining the United States’ economic competitiveness on the global stage. In the 21st century and at a time of uncertainty in the world economy, innovation is paramount; any attempts to starve our ability to scientifically innovate will only serve to diminish our economic power.

Nonetheless, we’ve recently seen an alarming trend of suppression of scientists in an attempt to silence research that may not conform to pre-existing beliefs or political expediency. Currently, attacks on science in the arena of environmental protection are of particular concern.

In March, the White House released an executive budget that includes $2.4 billion in cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, totaling 31 percent of the agency’s budget. Additionally, the budget outlines a reduction in EPA staff by 3,200 employees. According to an internal analysis by the EPA, the budget reductions will have profound effects on many key programs of the agency, including the elimination of public health initiatives, climate change research, regional environmental projects and environmental education.

Budget cuts facing the EPA are not a trivial matter to states, including New Mexico. Annually, one-half to three-quarters of EPA funding is routed through the states. According to the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor, the New Mexico Environment Department spent over $21.5 million in 2016, from which the EPA was the funding agency. This funding was spent on a variety of health initiatives including availability of clean water, air pollution control and hazardous waste management. The potential loss of this funding to New Mexico will mean that the state will be forced to divert money from other vital programs or to raise taxes to meet the shortfall.

Reducing the EPA’s budget will also have a chilling effect on the ability of scientific professionals to innovate. Every year, the agency grants millions of dollars to fund forward-thinking initiatives by universities and private companies. For instance, the University of New Mexico received over $2 million from the EPA in 2016 for a variety of programs.

Since its launch in 1970, the EPA has been enormously successful in improving public and environmental health. Proponents of slashing environmental protection budgets argue that successes of clean air and clean water prove that the agency is no longer needed. However, this is a foolhardy argument.

Scientific advancement should not be discarded once it becomes inconvenient to a select few. Every benefit must be built upon to improve our own well-being and increase our sphere of information. To jettison a body of knowledge while claiming success sets a very dangerous precedent for our society’s understanding of what science is.

We believe that science cannot be allowed to fall victim to partisan division. We support the scientists who have decided to enter into political discourse. We support those who are fighting back against the undermining of vital institutions, and we call upon those who value our quality of life and economic robustness to do the same.