Scientist, congressional candidate talks impact of Trump’s budget

Jess Phoenix, a geologist, announces her candidacy for the 2018 congressional race for Steve Knight's 25th district seat at Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce on Monday, April 18, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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It doesn’t take a scientist to see President Donald Trump’s budget would take a big cut to science funding.

But it does take a scientist to unpack the impact a lack of funding could have.

According to Jess Phoenix, a volcanologist, a co-founder of nonprofit Blueprint Earth, and most recently, a candidate for Congress in the 25th district, these budget cuts would be detrimental.

“People understand that if you want to have a good quality of life, you have to balance human needs with the environment’s needs,” Phoenix said. “It’s not politically objectionable.”

Phoenix, a Democrat who announced her candidacy for Rep. Steve Knight’s (R-Palmdale) seat in April, was selected by 314 Action, an organization that recruits candidates with science backgrounds to run for office. The organization is targeting three Republicans in the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology including Knight, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

In her announcement for office, Phoenix made her dedication to addressing climate change and her distaste of Trump clear. When the president released his proposed budget on May 23, suggesting the nation cut hundreds of millions of dollars for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), she was struck by the environmental impacts it could have.

There is also a misconception that NASA’s only focus is space shuttles, she said, when in fact the administration is one of the world’s leaders in learning about climate change. With Trump’s budget, NASA would lose 0.8 percent spending, all related to earth science.

“Because we’re feeling one thing doesn’t mean the opposite isn’t true somewhere else,” Phoenix said.

“We’re fine in Southern California, there’s a war in Syria. In Southern California it’s warm, but in other parts of the world it is unseasonably cold or unseasonably hot, we somehow have this barrier where we’re not acknowledging that because the education that people are getting hasn’t been good enough in terms of science.”

Most people do not understand the difference between weather and climate change, she said. While weather changes day to day independent of climate patterns, climate change happens over a long period of time.

Under Trump’s proposal, the EPA’s budget would be the smallest it has been in 40 years, Phoenix cited, as it would be decreased 31.4 percent from $8.2 billion to $5.7 billion, including cutting 50 EPA programs.

“Just saying we’ll get rid of the EPA, that’s all well and good but when your drinking water becomes contaminated or when your air becomes so smoggy children have to not go outside for recess like they did 30-40 years ago, this is something we can’t live with,” she said.

Additionally, this cut to funding would mean a cut to about 4,000 jobs for those employed by the EPA, Phoenix said.

Mentioned in Trump’s budget, the idea behind cutting federal funding would put the fiscal responsibility on the states. Phoenix said states do not have the funds to meet the needs of these programs and environmental regulations impact more than one area and are not bound by state lines.

The congressional candidate also referred to environmental topics specifically in the 25th district, including the Whittaker Bermite site, the 996-acres that are contaminated from munitions testing in the center of Santa Clarita.

“We need to invest the time, energy and yes, the money, to making this area something that people in this community can really take pride in,” Phoenix said.

Also regarding local issues, Phoenix expressed concern with eliminating the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration program that warns people when natural disasters were expected to occur, including earthquakes at the San Andreas fault.

Programs like Energy Star, which aids consumers in choosing energy-saving appliances like televisions and refrigerators, would be eliminated under the budget as well, Phoenix said.

“We need to value what science brings to every single one of our lives,” she said. “Knowledge of science and appreciation for science is what has gotten us this far and it is what will take us into the future.”

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On Twitter as @ginaender

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