River lab must be allowed to live

One fascinating aspect of nature is how life can so often thrive in the most inhospitable of environments -- such as fish at the deepest depths of the ocean, or insects in Antarctica.

The University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Lab is in a similar inhospitable environment, ever since the U.S. Department of Energy gutted funding for the lab to a scant $1 million a year. Just two years ago, its budget was $8 million.

Even at $8 million, the lab is a bargain. The SREL's mission is to study and monitor the environment around Savannah River Site. It's been executing that mission since the early 1950s, making that area one of the longest continuously studied ecosystems in existence.

With each passing day that habitat is studied, the lab's findings obviously become more valuable, because the findings gleaned from that particular location would be impossible to duplicate elsewhere. The SREL is unique.

And, to the federal government's shame, the lab must scratch and claw to remain open. Even last year, when leading environmental scientists begged Congress to keep the lab funded, those perfectly logical pleas fell on deaf ears. Imagine all the wasteful pork that was funded when hard-earned taxpayers' dollars could have gone toward something so scientifically meaningful.

The SREL's new director, Dr. Carl Bergmann, thought at first that his job would be to shepherd the lab toward closure.

But after he learned firsthand of the facility's scientific importance, the respected organic chemist started researching a formula to produce more SREL funding.

Research grants are but a fraction of what they were a year ago, in no small part because of the hurtful staff departures. Fewer than 50 scientists staff the lab today; this time last year, that complement was 110. When scientists leave, the grant money that funds their fields of study goes with them.

The Department of Energy and other federal agencies that bestow these grants must realize that the ecological studies conducted at the lab are too important to let die.

The lab's world-renowned work needs to continue, and it should have the funding to do it.

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Wed, 12/07/2016 - 23:19

Another attack on Christians