President Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, slashed Obama-era emissions regulations, stocked his administration with former fossil fuel lobbyists, and categorically dismissed the notion that climate change is an existential threat.
But none of that prevented the president from declaring in a White House address Monday that he had “set the new global standard for environmental protections.”
Trump, eschewing talk of addressing the climate crisis, focused on how he wants “the cleanest air” and “crystal clean water,” as well as his decision to remove the U.S. from the “unfair, ineffective, and very expensive” Paris accord. Though the Trump administration has long claimed that the United States has the cleanest air and water in the world, this is far from true. According to the 2018 Environmental Performance Index, the U.S. ranked 10th of 180 countries in air quality, and 29th in water and sanitation.
The thrust of Trump’s message was that the best way to help the environment is to help the economy. The Paris accord, along with emissions regulations put in place by President Obama, are job-killers, Trump argued, and by axing them he is actually helping the environment. “My administration is now revising the past administration’s misguided regulations to better protect the environment and to protect our American workers,” he said. “So importantly,” he added.
"The United States does not have to sacrifice our own jobs to lead the world on the environment," President Trump says.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 8, 2019
If all this sounds a bit suspect, it’s because it is. In reality, Trump’s record on the environment is abysmal. A few months after taking office, he removed the United States from the Paris climate accord, arguing that remaining in the international agreement to keep the global average temperature from rising to a catastrophic degree would “undermine our economy.” He has consistently derided clean energy solutions (in April he claimed falsely that windmills cause cancer), while pushing to rejuvenate the coal industry, a former lobbyist for which currently heads the Environmental Protection Agency.
Trump has also ignored the climate crisis, even refuting warnings from his own administration about the impact of climate change. “I don’t believe it,” he said last November when asked about the National Climate Assessment, a dire report compiled by 13 federal agencies and over 300 climate scientists which the White House tried to bury by releasing it the Friday after Thanksgiving. “The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future,” the report read, “but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur. Americans increasingly recognize the risks climate change poses to their everyday lives and livelihoods and are beginning to respond.”
This summer, the Trump administration is expected to officially demolish what remains of Obama-era regulations to curb emissions from cars and power plants, a move even automakers have deemed too extreme. The president is also reportedly entertaining the idea of creating a scientific review panel. Though this may sound like a good idea for an administration lacking any scientific bonafides, that’s exactly the point. The panel’s purpose would be to give the White House some semblance of legitimacy as it tries to combat climate science. The man who would reportedly lead the panel, a 79-year-old former professor named William Happer, does not believe humans are responsible for the climate crisis, and once said that the “demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”
In his address Monday, Trump positioned the Green New Deal as the Democratic alternative to his administration’s environmental policy, dramatically over-inflating the potential cost of the still-amorphous progressive plan and making unsubstantiated claims about the damage it would do to the economy.
After speaking for a few minutes, Trump introduced an array of administration officials — or, as he put it, “talented people that know environment” — and also Bruce Hroback, the owner of Billy Bones Bait and Tackle in Port St. Lucie, Florida, who praised Trump for cleaning up marine algae and other contaminants that had been affecting his business. “Trump 2020!” Hroback called into the microphone before leaving the lectern.
— Kelly O'Donnell (@KellyO) July 8, 2019
Democrats scoffed at the speech on Monday. “President Trump’s record on the environment is pathetic and an embarrassment to the world,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT). “This is a man who still thinks climate change is a ‘hoax.’ He better start listening to scientists and not his friends in the fossil fuel, chemical, and big agribusiness industries.”
Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who has based his 2020 presidential campaign around the climate crisis, live-tweeted the speech. “As Trump touts his administration’s environmental ‘accomplishments,’ a reminder that the EPA is run by a coal lobbyist, Interior is run by an oil lobbyist and Energy is run by someone who wanted to abolish the department,” he wrote.
As Trump touts his administration’s environmental “accomplishments,” a reminder that the EPA is run by a coal lobbyist, Interior is run by an oil lobbyist and Energy is run by someone who wanted to abolish the department.
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) July 8, 2019
Inslee also surmised the motivations behind Trump’s decision to deliver an environment-focused speech. “The climate crisis is a political problem for Donald Trump and he knows it,” he tweeted.
According to Axios, at least two senior administration officials were surprised Trump agreed to give the speech on Monday given his general antipathy toward the environment. “I don’t know why we’d spend any time talking about their issue,” one of them said, referring to Democrats, who have largely embraced tackling the climate crisis. The other attributed the decision to the urging of his daughter and adviser, Ivanka. The New York Times reported that the idea for a speech on the environment came by way of members of his re-election campaign who fear Trump’s subpar environmental record is hurting him among key demographics.
But it’s unlikely anyone on the fence about the Trump’s approach to the environment would have been swayed by his speech on Monday. As he praised his administration’s record, Washington, D.C., was flooded, the result of a torrential downpour that hit the area earlier that day.