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Fri Aug 2, 2019, 05:03 AM

Climate change research threatened by University of Alaska budget cuts

Earlier this month in Juneau, state Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, stood in front of 37 Alaska legislators to protest Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s $444 million cut from the state budget. A third of the rollbacks affect the University of Alaska, he noted, and they will “eviscerate” the system. “The research that we’re doing … is world-leading,” said Wool. “This kind of cut will turn that around and regress this institution that we have — that we need.” His conclusion was blunt: “This cut is unconscionable, and I protest it with everything I have.”

But Wool and other like-minded lawmakers were unable to muster the 45 votes necessary to reverse the proposed budget cut, leaving citizens and the University of Alaska in a state of panic. The University of Alaska stands to lose $130 million — about a 41% slash in state support to the university system, and 17% of UA’s overall budget. It is one of the biggest annual cuts to public higher education by a state in history, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

And the impacts of the funding cuts aren’t limited to Alaska. Researchers throughout the country depend heavily on the University of Alaska system, with its prime location and world-class scientific facilities, to conduct climate change studies in the Arctic. If the institution is diminished, the national fabric of climate research could be at risk. “If you take away the UA piece,” said Victoria Herrmann, president of The Arctic Institute, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., “that’s one less piece to this puzzle that you have to understand global climate change.”

The roots of the current budget crisis date back to 2014, when oil prices plummeted. Historically, revenue from the oil industry fed the Alaska Permanent Fund and was dished out in annual checks, called the Permanent Fund Dividend, to every Alaska citizen. But when oil income dropped, so did the numbers written on the checks, falling to as low as about $1,000. Dunleavy is determined to raise them to $3,000, the highest amount in the state’s history, making drastic cutbacks to the University of Alaska in an effort to do so.

Read more: https://www.hcn.org/articles/climate-change-research-threatened-by-university-of-alaska-budget-cuts
(High Country News)

Cross-posted in the Environment & Energy Group.

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