Green groups are seeking to convince Trump voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and other states to split from the president over his stewardship of the environment.
They point to President Trump’s proposed cuts to programs that would clean up the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay and their watersheds, arguing the White House’s policies will hurt the voters who helped him topple Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE.
“It’s really about appealing to most voters, including people who voted for Trump who are nominally Democrats or have voted for President Obama before, or are Republicans who are not hard-line right-wing,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs at National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
“These people support clean energy; it basically cuts clean energy research in half. They support having clean air and clean water … you can’t do that in a budget that cuts the Great Lakes program.
The NRCD, Environmental Defense Fund and other groups are running advertisements, organizing protests and lobbying lawmakers to come out in opposition to the administration’s ideas.
They hope to weaken support for Trump and his Republican allies in the 2018 and 2020 elections, while sowing opposition to Trump’s policies.
The public relations effort puts iconic water bodies important to the identities of Rust Belt states at the forefront rather than broader issues such as global climate change.
Adrian Gray, a Republican strategist and consultant, said that could be a good way to sway Republican voters.
“Democrats generally do environmental issues on a more global scale,” Gray said.
“Republicans view the environment as a much more local thing,” he said. “It’s going to make a bigger impact, potentially, on Republicans.”
GOP voters usually put environmental matters low on their list of political priorities, Gray noted. But if they believe that a policy issue, like water pollution, can hit them close to home, voters are much more likely to be swayed at the ballot box.
An outline released last month by the administration would reduce the EPA budget by more than a third, partly through cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.
The White House argued that such programs are not a federal responsibility.
“The budget returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to state and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities,” officials wrote in the budget outline.
But environmental groups think the deep budget cut proposals, even if they are unlikely to be realized, will hurt the Trump agenda.
“Trump’s assault on public health and the environment is so extreme that it leaves him and his allies vulnerable, even with Trump voters, in counties that he carried,” said Jeremy Symons, associate vice president for climate at EDF.
The cuts already have been condemned by some Republican lawmakers in the affected states.
“I have long championed this program, and I’m committed to continuing to do everything I can to protect and preserve Lake Erie, including preserving this critical program and its funding,” Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanRepublicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks Anti-Trump Republicans on the line in 2022 too Major US port target of attempted cyber attack MORE (R-Ohio) said in a statement, referring to the Great Lakes program.
Deep red states that Trump won easily are also getting attention from environmental groups determined to show that even in those areas, his proposals aren’t popular.
In West Virginia and Kentucky, environmentalists are working to show that Trump’s repeal of the Interior Department’s rule protecting streams from coal mining pollution, his cuts to Agriculture Department rural development programs that fund drinking water improvements and his actions to repeal the Clean Water Rule can turn Appalachian voters against him.
“There are some elements of Trump’s agenda that are of particular concern to people in suburbs, but there are just as many elements of his agenda that are causing concern in rural areas and Appalachia,” said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
“We now have specific proposals to point to to make it clear to people the stakes for them and their communities,” she said.
Greens think they have public opinion on their side.
A Gallup poll last month found that 63 percent of Americans are concerned “a great deal” about drinking water pollution, while 57 percent are concerned about pollution in lakes, rivers and reservoirs. This is the highest numbers recorded for either question since 2001.
Meanwhile, a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday found that 66 percent of voters are worried that climate change will impact them or someone they know personally.
“This is going to come down to public reaction, and I think that definitely tilts in our favor,” said Symons.
Groups supporting Trump beg to differ, and say that the effects of his actions will be positive.
“This new administration has been aggressive in advancing a new era of energy innovation and unwinding the Obama-era's web of job-killing regulations,” said Jeremy Adler, spokesman for AR2, the advocacy arm of the conservative America Rising.
“We don’t see liberal activists’ increasingly desperate tactics impeding that agenda, which has strong support from both parties, including many in organized labor.”