As an oceanographer, I don’t typically spend time on Capitol Hill. However, I’m on sabbatical and it is federal appropriations season, so I was recently there with other geoscientists, talking with members of Congress about the importance of federal science funding in our home states.

But researchers aren’t the only ones who can advocate for science.

With Sen. Susan Collins as vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, every Maine constituent has a voice – and a particularly strong one – when it comes to the federal budget. As the Republican leader on this committee with a record of supporting science and funding for Maine, she is a powerful player in these tough negotiations.

With the looming debt ceiling and a divided Congress, an appropriations battle is underway. The Limit, Save, Grow Act passed by the House would cut all discretionary funding by 9% and limit growth below the recent rate of inflation: just 1% annually for a decade.  But given Republican plans to protect Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security department spending, much deeper cuts could be made to all other discretionary funding – including federal science agencies.

This means that funding for science is on the chopping block.  

But constituents in Maine can help prevent this. Mainers know how valuable the environment and natural resources are for our communities and economy. Federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey fund research that helps us better understand, protect and sustainably use our climate, our environment and their resources.


At Bowdoin, the NSF and NOAA fund my research on climate change in the Gulf of Maine and its impacts on shellfish. My students and I grow clams and scallops in tanks and use chemical signatures preserved in their shells to extend instrumental records back in time.  These data provide a historical context for modern climate measurements, which help determine the causes of warming and acidification in our region. I use federal funding to offer students research opportunities and bring them to their first conferences. But to continue this research and mentoring, we need healthy budgets at our federal agencies.

My work is just a snapshot of how federal agencies support STEM in Maine. The NSF Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research has provided Maine with over $17 million in special funding for cyber infrastructure and sustainability research. Federal agencies fund climate observation and modeling research at the University of Maine’s Climate Institute that helps us learn how Earth’s climate functions, and improve predictions of extreme weather hazards.

You use data collected by federal agencies, whether you are using NOAA to navigate your boat around Casco Bay or checking the radar before you grab a raincoat. You may have consulted USGS groundwater maps before drilling a well at your camp. But NOAA also funds Maine Sea Grant, which supports partnerships among coastal researchers, communities, fisheries and aquaculture. And NOAA coordinates ocean carbon dioxide removal research, which is already being carried out by Maine businesses.

There are countless more examples of how agencies such as the NSF, the USGS and NASA support Maine.

It is true that many federal programs require strong investments to address immediate societal challenges. Take the housing crisis as an example. But if we pull back on investing in climate science and community resilience research, we will put these front-line communities even more at risk.

Every Mainer benefits from strong federal investments in science, and all Maine constituents have a direct line to a powerful federal appropriations leader who supports science. So call, write or visit Sen. Collins’ office. Tell her how science supports you and your community and help her to prioritize funding for science in these tough negotiations.

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