Climate Research Centers Falter During Shutdown, While Oil And Gas Permits Hold Steady

Jan 10, 2019

CASC Regions and Consortia
Credit U.S. Geological Survey

The government shutdown is affecting federally-funded climate centers across the country, including here in our region. 

The eight Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs) focus on preparing the U.S. for climate change and are a federal-academic partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey, under the Interior Department, and science institutions or universities around the country. It includes schools in Colorado, Utah, Montana and South Dakota.

Amy Snover, the university director of the northwest CASC out of the University of Washington, said federal labs are shut and employees are gone.

"What that means is that the work that would normally be going on through the federal side isn't happening. And that has implications for what happens across the region and nation," Snover said, pointing to halted research.

Darren Lerner, the head of the Pacific Islands CASC out of the University of Hawaii, said he's seeing the same thing.

"We're kind of limping along a little bit in that, if you want to put somewhat of a number on it, half our capacity has gone dark," Lerner said, clarifying "half" are the federal employees.

While climate research funding has been shut off, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to process permit applications. According to a memo from the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, four BLM field offices in Wyoming will restart processing permits as of Monday, January 14.

Kathleen Sgamma, the head of the Western Energy Alliance which represents oil and gas, said limited staff and confusion is also hurting them.

"Companies are waiting for leases, if you don't have the full leasehold it's hard to do the exploratory work or full development work you're planning on," Sgamma said.

Northwest CASC's Snover said the fact the Interior Department is helping fund oil and gas progress is disappointing.

"It's a surprising choice of what is considered bare minimum essentials and what people decide to put their resources towards," Snover said.

The north-central CASC includes universities in Montana, Colorado, and Utah has new leadership and hasn't announced any specific challenges during the shutdown.