Trump touts environmental policies, but says nothing of climate change

Trump touts environmental policies, but says nothing of climate change
© UPI Photo

President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller MORE touted his environmental successes in a speech from the White House on Monday that focused heavily on his steering of the economy and help for the nation’s energy sector, and that didn’t include the phrase “climate change” once.

Flanked by Cabinet heads from the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Interior Department, Trump said he alone had proved that job creation and environmental protection could go hand in hand.

ADVERTISEMENT

“For years politicians told Americans that a strong economy and vibrant energy sector were incompatible with a healthy environment, that one thing doesn’t go with the other,” he said. 

“And that’s wrong.”

Much of the speech addressed environmental issues as a footnote to his efforts on energy, but argued that growth in energy and a clean environment could build on one another.

“We’re unlocking American energy and the United States is now a net exporter of clean, reliable American gas,” Trump said. 

In the next breath, he said, “Today the U.S. is ranked number one in the world for access to clean drinking water.”

Since entering the White House, Trump has rolled back EPA regulations on methane, replaced an Obama-era rule regulating power plants emissions and suggested weakening vehicle fuel standards. He has also proposed easing a major Obama-era rule protecting waterways.

But pointing to numbers released last Friday that showed the economy gained a better-than-expected 224,000 jobs in June, Trump said his administration’s embrace of fossil fuels had unlocked economic growth and ended a “war on energy.” And he cast this as an important part of his administration’s environmental legacy.

“The previous administration waged a relentless war on energy. We can’t do that,” Trump said.

Trump’s address comes as environmental issues and climate change have risen in importance for Democratic voters heading into the 2020 elections. Polls have shown global warming is now a top voting issue, ranking alongside health care and the economy. 

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that Americans disapprove of Trump’s position on many major issues. The lowest-ranking issue in the poll was climate change, with just 29 percent of respondents saying they approved of Trump's position.

Trump has come under intense criticism from environment groups and Democrats for rolling back Obama-era regulations intended to address climate change, and for saying he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords.

The withdrawal from the Paris deal has also led to new tensions with U.S. allies in Europe. Trump has argued the Paris agreement was a bad deal that unfairly hurt the United States.

Another criticism aimed at Trump is that he has contributed to doubts about climate change by himself questioning the degree to which the planet is warming.

The 45-minute speech contained no reference to global warming or plans to reenter the Paris climate agreementor draft a better deal on the issue.

Former EPA employees and environmentalists called the speech a clear case of misdirection.

“The Trump speech was a classic in Soviet-style up-is-down disinformation because the president's words are belied by the relentlessness with which his administration has gone about the task of rolling back scores of the rules that have been the engine driving the environmental progress America enjoyed before Trump took office,” said Joe Goffman, a former top official at EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation under Obama.

“It is as if the Trump policy is to promote, rather than prevent, air and water pollution, toxic chemical exposure and the despoiling of America's natural resources.”

Betsy Southerland, a former director in EPA’s Office of Water under Obama, argued Trump has done nothing to maintain any environmental protections that may have occurred under previous administrations.

She also cast his environmental policies as changing at the whim of his political backers. A number of Trump’s biggest campaign donors were heads of fossil fuel industries.

“His environmental policy is not based on ideology or based on the economic impacts of rules, it’s really just based on whatever his political donors ask him to do,” said Southerland. 

At the White House, Cabinet members offered their support for Trump.

EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Historic heat wave is double whammy for climate change | Trump sees 'bigger problems' than plastic straws | House Science chair threatens EPA over 'stonewalled' answers Science committee chair threatens EPA over 'stonewalled' answers to lawmakers Overnight Energy: USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move west | EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution | Agency eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors MORE, a former energy lobbyist, pointed to the decrease in criteria air pollutant emissions since 1970, pollutants that “continue to decline” under Trump’s leadership. He said the trend, which started under President Nixon, pointed to how “America is, and will remain, the Gold Standard for environmental protection.”

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former energy lobbyist who is under investigation for his supposed continued ties to former clients, said at the speech, “The reality is that America leads the world in recreation and wildlife conservation efforts.”

Trump came under fire in 2017 for signing off on reducing the boundaries of two national monuments, Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante. The Interior Department has also been criticized for looking to increase oil and gas drilling opportunities on public land, as part of Trump's energy independence plan.

Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryAmazon taps Trump ally to lobby amid Pentagon cloud-computing contract fight How to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy Senior Trump administration official to leave post next week MORE, who during his own presidential campaign suggested the EPA be gutted, boasted of the Trump administration’s ability to invest in grants that enable clean water. 

“This is a great moment for America,” he said. “At DOE we have championed both the historic development of our nation’s resources and the technological breakthroughs that are literally cascading across this country in ways to use energy more cleanly, more efficiently than anyone ever thought possible before.”

The White House this past year suggested cuts across the board to budgets in all three agencies. 

Rebecca Beitsch contributed