The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland is the largest single employer in the Tri-Cities, with almost 4,400 scientists, engineers, and professionals. It contributes directly and indirectly more than $2.5 billion in economic output, and more than 12,000 jobs to our local and state economies.
The less tangible impacts of PNNL may be the more important for our community, the state and the nation. PNNL is an incubator for the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) that are so vital to our nation’s ability to survive and thrive in our rapidly advancing world.
I joined PNNL after retiring from the Air Force and worked there for almost a quarter of a century. I enjoyed working on the lab’s cutting-edge R&D projects, but what really impressed me was the quality of its people. They were not only the brightest people I’d ever met, but some of the most creative, dedicated, and all-around nice people with whom I’d had the privilege to work.
PNNL is one of 17 Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories across the nation. All will be similarly impacted by President Donald Trump’s ill-considered priorities. President Trump’s proposed budget would drastically reduce or even eliminate programs that fund leading-edge science and technology work. When that work goes, so will the people, and the people who came with them, and the people who were drawn by them, as well as the spinoff technology that drives American business and leadership.
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The president’s “budget blueprint,” released in mid-March, proposes slashing the Office of Science by $900 million, an astounding 20 percent. Science programs in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be hit twice as hard, with a 40 percent cut (the EPA is cut 31 percent overall).
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suffers a 26 percent cut. DOE’s cutting-edge Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) would be entirely eliminated, and with it the transformational energy technologies it nurtures. The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which funds research on advanced vehicles as well as other aspects of clean energy, would face a crippling 70 percent cut in 2018. Even the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would be axed by $6 billion, 20 percent of its budget.
Trump’s director of management and budget, Mick Mulvaney, has called the president’s plan an “America First” and “hard power” budget. Some, seeing the proposed $800 billion cut to Medicaid, and the other massive cuts to programs that help the poor, the elderly and the disabled, call the budget hard-hearted.
But it is more than that — it is a potentially disastrous miscalculation of what America’s priorities must be. Fundamentally, that is advancing the frontiers of science, technology, engineering and math, and ensuring the well-being and vitality of its most important resource, its people. This isn’t an either-or decision. It’s a question of balancing investments in the nation’s future, while safeguarding the future of its citizens.
Congress has until Sept. 30 to come to an agreement on how the federal government will be funded in Fiscal Year 2018. You have until then to communicate to your members of Congress where you think your government should be investing your tax dollars.
Richard Badalamente is a former Air Force officer, and a retired PNNL senior scientist. He is now a writer living in Kennewick.