Environmentalists scoff after Trump claims he's one of them

Environmentalists scoff after Trump claims he's one of them
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's top adviser on Asia to serve as deputy national security adviser United Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Trump doubles down on call to investigate Biden after whistleblower complaint: 'That's the real story' MORE’s statement that he is an environmentalist is provoking a backlash from critics who say his policies have hurt environmental protections and the fight against climate change.

Trump’s assertion Monday that he is a friend of the environment came at the conclusion of the Group of Seven (G-7) summit in France, after he skipped the climate portion of the summit and a discussion on Brazil’s raging forest fires. 

The president’s words, coupled with his actions, prompted swift criticism from environmental advocates.

“It’s detached from reality, just like everything he has ever said about climate and renewable energy,” said Mitch Jones, climate and energy program director at Food & Water Action. “For this president to claim he’s an environmentalist is one of the most absurd jokes on mankind ever been played. And it’s not funny.”

Trump’s absence from the environment-focused portions of the annual meeting of world leaders also renewed questions among his critics about whether he believes in man-made climate change.

“I'm an environmentalist. A lot of people don’t understand that,” Trump said at Monday’s press conference. “I think I know more about the environment than most people.”

Trump has played a major role in scaling back environmental regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency has rewritten regulations for coal-fired power plants, vehicle emissions and methane in ways that will weaken protections and significantly add to pollution, environmentalists argue.

But the president’s detractors say it’s not just the rolling back of Obama-era rules and those of his predecessors that they find worrisome.

“You can’t really identify a single regulation proposed by this administration which would improve environmental protections or improve public health and safety protections,” said David Doniger, senior strategic director of the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

When reached for comment, the White House pointed to a July speech in which the president hailed his administration’s environmental leadership alongside its oil and gas production. 

That speech was blasted by scientists and conservationists.

“The media has largely ignored the fact that the United States under President Trump’s leadership and policies has made the air, water, and environment cleaner,” Judd Deere, a White House spokesman said in a statement to The Hill. “We are the party of conservation, environmental protection, and expanding responsible clean energy technologies while the Democrats’ radical Green New Deal would outlaw cows, cars, and planes, crippling America’s economy and crushing the poorest communities across the globe that rely solely on fossil fuels to survive.”

Critics argue that Trump’s record has been anything but laudable.

In the first year of his presidency, Trump vowed to pull the U.S. out of the landmark Paris climate agreement, calling the international accord “very unfair.” He also challenged his administration’s own National Climate Assessment findings that warned the U.S. economy would be dramatically hit by global warming, saying, “I don’t believe it.”

But national polls show that climate change and the environment are becoming leading issues for voters, especially Democrats. And with the universal appeal of clean water and air, some observers view Trump’s comments from Monday as a way to appease voters.

“I think Trump knows there's a big vulnerability for him going into the elections,” said Craig Auster, senior director of political affairs at the League of Conservation Voters.

Voters are likely to see through Trump’s recent remarks, though, Auster said.

“Time after time, the president just lies about everything. This is one more thing to add to the list of things he's misled people about,” Auster said.

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

In June, Trump declared at a Group of 20 meeting in Japan that the U.S has the “cleanest air we’ve ever had,” despite a study published just days before that said the number of unhealthy air days had increased by 15 percent in the first two years of the Trump administration compared to the 2013-16 average.

Critics were also quick to point to the Trump administration’s preference for promoting fossil fuels over renewable energy as a reason the president is not an environmentalist.

After a U.S. Geological Survey report in November found that fossil fuel exploitation on federal land contributes nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the administration doubled down on oil and gas drilling on public lands. Earlier this month, the Bureau of Land Management leased 835,006 acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas exploration.

During his State of the Union speeches, Trump has praised the U.S. for becoming the top global producer of natural gas. He also declared in 2018 that he ended the war on “beautiful, clean coal.”

That championing of fossil fuels has often come at the expense of renewables. 

Trump has repeatedly denounced the benefits of renewable energy, arguing that solar is too expensive. He has also alleged that a wind turbine “kills all your birds” and that its noise “causes cancer.”

Separately, the Interior Department this month rolled back the Endangered Species Act, limiting protections for threatened species and opening the door for economic factors to be considered when debating whether a new species should be protected.

In defending his environmental record Monday, Trump referenced the role he’s played drafting “environmental impact statements” — a necessary part of the permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act that lays out how species and habitat might be impaired by the construction of things such as pipelines.

“I have done more environmental impact statements, probably, than anybody that’s — I guess I can say definitely because I have done many, many, many of them, more than anybody that’s ever been president or vice president or anything even close to president,” Trump said.

At the same time, the Trump administration has targeted environmental impact statements in some of its regulatory rollbacks.

A June proposal by the U.S. Forest Service that aims to speed up logging and forest clearing on public lands would increase the number of projects exempt from filing environmental impact statements as a way to “save time and resources.”

Environmental groups, along with a coalition of five state attorneys general, warned in formal comments this week that the move was an attempt “to rip out the backbone of our conservation laws in order to fast-track commercial projects.”

Those actions, Doniger said, are more telling than Trump’s remarks touting the volume of environmental impact statements.

“Doing an environmental impact statement does not make you an environmentalist. You do an environmental impact statement because you’re proposing projects that damage the environment,” said Doniger, adding that the statements help determine how companies can mitigate their environmental damage.

“If complying with an environmental law makes you an environmentalist, this makes the nation’s biggest polluters environmentalists,” he added.

John Coequyt, the Sierra Club’s global climate policy director, said Trump’s G-7 comments appeared to be an effort to calm voters.

“He has the bully pulpit of the presidency, and he can just say things over and over again and just hope that undermines the damaging things he's doing,” he said.

“These are signs that he understands the policies that he’s promoting are very unpopular with the American public, and he’s trying to undermine the damage he’s doing with his policies by just stating he’s pro environment,” Coequyt added.