By Justin Worland* – TIME
President Donald Trump has falsely called climate change a “hoax” invented by China, incorrectly suggested that wind turbines cause cancer and dismissed a landmark scientific report produced by the federal government’s own scientists. His Administration has sought to roll back key climate regulations at every turn.
That didn’t stop him from holding an event Monday afternoon to argue for his environmental record as he heads into a tough re-election campaign.
Speaking from the White House, Trump made a number of arguments, ranging from standard boasts about the state of the economy to dubious claims that the United States has some of the world’s cleanest air and water.
But one claim stood out as particularly surprising: Trump specifically cited a reduction in climate change-causing carbon dioxide emissions and bragged that the U.S. has exceeded other countries in nixing greenhouse gas emissions. “Every single one of the signatories to the Paris climate accord lags behind America,” he said.
That claim is misleading: emissions rose in the U.S. last year and Trump’s policies are likely to make future reductions less likely. But, more significantly, the claim appears to be an acknowledgement by the President that climate change is an actual problem that the United States should be addressing, something he has previously dismissed.
To be clear, Trump did not make that case explicitly nor did he discuss the threat of climate change in any specific way. But his claims would make no sense if climate change was a hoax or simply a byproduct of changes in the weather, arguments that Trump has made in the past.
The event underscores an awkward reality for Trump. The GOP’s environmental agenda and record is deeply unpopular. And, while in the past voters have ranked the environment low among their concerns, climate change has risen in importance in the eyes of voters as the effects of global warming have become increasingly apparent to average Americans.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 62% of voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of climate change, and more than half of voters say it is a very important issue or one of the most important issues. More broadly, Trump’s repeated dismissal of the reality of climate change increasingly places him at odds with the average American. Nearly seven in 10 Americans understand that climate change is happening, according to an April surveyfrom Yale University and George Mason University.
The need to change that messaging was apparent throughout the event. Speaker after speaker Monday suggested that the public has simply not been informed about the Administration’s good work. “We’re doing a very tough job and not everybody knows it,” said Trump. “That’s one of the reasons we are here today to speak to you.”
But Trump’s new environmental messaging will not win over most observers who have been closely following the Administration’s steady stream of rollbacks — from the nixing of President Barack Obama’s chief measure targeting carbon emissions from power plants to announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
His remarks Monday were also filled with a series of false or misleading statements. He claimed that the Green New Deal would cost the economy $100 trillion, when in fact the Green New Deal is merely a resolution, meaning it lacks specifics that would allow economists to determine what it costs. He said that ensuring clean air is a “top priority” for his administration while the Environmental Protection Agency has changed air pollution rules in a fashion that will lead to more deaths.
The arguments won’t make much difference among Trump’s base. But at the margins of the electorate there are segments of potential Trump voters for whom climate change could be a factor in the voting booth. In Florida, a swing state Trump won by 1.2% in 2016, Trump’s plan to open the coast to offshore drilling has drawn bipartisan outrage. In that state, the state’s new Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis moved in his first days in office to spend $2.5 billion to address toxic algae bloom and to restore the Everglades, both climate-related issues.
In Iowa, another swing state, farmers have been pummeled by droughts and flooding. Voters in Michigan and Wisconsin, two swing states that supported Trump by a narrow margin in 2016, have seen the damaging effects of climate change on the Great Lakes, including a rise in invasive species and increased water temperatures.
Even veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who once counseled Republicans muddy the science of climate change, issued a memo last month calling global warming a “GOP vulnerability.” More than half of Republicans want to see the government take action to stem carbon emissions, according to Luntz’s memo.
Trump is not the only Republican to take that to heart. Earlier this year, GOP Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Cory Gardner, both of whom are up for re-election next year, launched the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus to advocate “market-based approaches” to environmental issues. Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, a frequent Trump defender, proposed a “Green Real Deal” as an alternative to progressive calls for a Green New Deal. And Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander suggested a new “Manhattan Project for Clean Energy” to fight climate change.
“In Florida, we’ve felt the social and economic consequences of environmental disaster firsthand,” said Rep. Brian Mast, a Florida Republican who’s leading the Conservation Caucus in the House, at the time.
These programs were largely dismissed in environmental circles, but they suggest a recognition among at least some Republicans that voters have moved on from Trump-like denial of the science climate change. Monday’s event suggests that perhaps Trump has as well, but, environmental advocates say, what lies around the corner is unlikely to be much better: acknowledging climate change is real, or in this case simply not denying it, still won’t do anything to stop it.
*Justin Worland is a Washington D.C.-based writer for TIME covering energy and the environment.
Environmentalists deride Trump’s speech touting accomplishments on the issue
BY RACHEL VAN DONGEN, With Paulina Firozi – – The Washington Post
Environmentalists and critics derided President Trump’s speech yesterday in which he touted his environmental accomplishments.
“Facing Cabinet members, including his Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department chiefs, the president said he had urged his deputies to tackle environmental challenges “so we can provide the highest quality of life to all Americans,” my colleagues Juliet Eilperin and Seung Min Kim reported.
They added: “’We want the cleanest air, we want crystal clear water. And that’s what we’re doing,’ [Trump] said. ‘These are incredible goals that everyone in this country can rally behind, and they are rallying behind.’ Touting the United States’ level of access to drinking water, Trump boasted that his White House was working ‘harder than many previous administrations’ on the issue of the environment, adding: ‘Maybe almost all of them.'”
Not so, cried environmentalists, who say the Trump administration is more likely to be remembered for rolling back President Obama’s environmental policies and not doing much to advance climate change after withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord.
They pointed to a number of ways in which the president’s rhetoric is inconsistent with his actions. “Regrettably, the president’s rhetoric and the statements he’s made on climate are, at best, disingenuous,” former congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) told Juliet and Seung Min.
The administration recently rolled back Obama’s clean power plant regulations, allowing power plants to produce more pollution that is blamed for worsening climate change.
It soon intends to freeze tougher mileage standards for cars and pickup trucks. Twenty-three governors, in mostly Democratic-led states, announced last night they will back California in sticking to pre-Trump administration admissions goals.
Federal data suggests air quality is worsening: “The number of unhealthy days for ozone and soot pollution reached 799 in 2018 and 721 in 2017, according to EPA data, the highest levels they’ve hit since 2012. The nation’s carbon dioxide emissions increased more than 3 percent last year, according to the federal government, their biggest increase since 2010,” report Juliet and Seung Min.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler echoed Trump’s boasts, saying: “I do believe that our air is cleaner and our water is cleaner than other countries around the world. And I think the data supports that,” according to my colleagues.
But: “While U.S. water quality ranks among the highest in the world, and Americans face relatively low exposure to fine particle pollution, or soot, the country’s smog problem is much worse than dozens of other countries across the globe. The Health Effects Institute’s State of Global Air 2019 report shows the United States ranks 123rd out of 195 nations when it comes to smog, or ozone pollution.”
The bottom line is Trump argues he is taking a “practical approach” to regulating environmental hazards that takes into account a “strong economy,” according to administration officials. But critics believe that strategy is far too industry friendly and risks any progress made toward mitigating the effects of climate change.
Many 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have made climate change a priority in their campaign messaging. Although new Washington Post/ABC News polling shows that climate change still ranks relatively low on a list of issue priorities for voters, “81 percent of Democrats said climate change was ‘very important,’ compared with more than the 56 percent of independents and 26 percent of Republicans,” write Juliet and Seung Min.