For the second year in a row, the White House's annual memo to science agencies about what research to focus on makes no mention of climate change. In every previous version of these memos that Pacific Standard has found—dating back to this document, which the George W. Bush administration published in 2003—the White House declared climate science a top priority.
"This document really conveys the administration's opposition to climate change research," says Romany Webb, a fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. The Sabin Center included the memo on its list of government actions that restrict science research and dissemination. "The administration has, in many ways, gone beyond what previous administrations have done to actually attack climate science," Webb says.
That said, what this memo will ultimately mean for climate science's place in America's budget is still uncertain. On the one hand, in recent years, agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration have taken the annual research and development memo seriously when writing up their budgets for White House approval. "The agencies paid a lot of attention to this letter," says John Holdren, former science adviser to President Barack Obama. The science adviser issues the memo jointly with the director of the Office of Management and Budget. "It was made clear to them—by the director of OMB, by me, and by the president himself—that they would do better in the budget process if they paid attention," Holdren says.
On the other hand, Congress makes the ultimate decisions about the federal budget, and it has clashed a lot with President Donald Trump over science. Typically released in the summer, the White House's research and development memo is one of the first steps to making the science budget for two years ahead—in this case, 2020. Last year, the memo for 2019 didn't mention climate change either. (In fact, it mentioned few specific fields of science; this year's is much more thorough.) Other documents related to the 2019 budget indicated that the White House sought huge cuts to climate and environmental science. But Congress largely voted against slashing these budgets, keeping them flat instead. It's still working on passing all its appropriation bills for the fiscal year 2019, which starts on October 1st, 2018.
Judging from the 2020 memo, the White House seems poised to propose drastic cuts to climate science once again. How Congress will respond remains to be seen.