Earlier this week, President Donald Trump gave a speech about the environment, touting how he valued “clear water” and public lands. It was a speech totally divorced from reality.
The Trump administration has scrapped dozens of environmental protections, pledged to remove the U.S. from a worldwide climate change agreement and tried to erase federal agency mentions of climate change. A speech full of falsehoods and nonsensical statements does not negate any of this.
“From day one, my administration has made it a top priority to ensure that America has among the very cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet,” he said in the July 8 speech at the White House. “We want the cleanest air. We want crystal-clean water, and that’s what we’re doing and that’s what we’re working on so hard.”
This doesn’t mesh with the administration’s actions and priorities.
According to numerous entities that are keeping track, including the Environmental & Energy Law Program at Harvard University and The New York Times, the Trump administration has or is in the process of rolling back more than 80 environmental regulations. Many of them involve easing or eliminating air and water pollution restrictions, often in the name of boosting fossil fuel production in the U.S., which is itself problematic because burning fossil fuels like oil and coal is a major contributor to climate change.
The administration, for example, announced a plan last year to open much of the U.S. coast to offshore drilling. That plan, which raised concerns about environmental degradation, has already been put on hold by a federal judge.
The administration also moved to ease regulations on oil and gas drilling on federal lands and the president issued an order in December 2017 dramatically shrinking two national monuments in Utah, which would allow resource extraction, including oil and gas drilling, on previously protected lands.
The administration also replaced rules meant to limit the emissions of methane, a powerful heat-trapping gas, from drilling operations on federal and tribal lands.
One of the first pieces of legislation Trump signed was a bill to eliminate an Obama-era rule restricting what coal mining companies can dump into streams. All of Maine’s congressional delegation voted against the gutting of the stream protection rule.
The list goes on and on.
In his speech, the president claimed that, since 2000, U.S. energy-related carbon emissions have declined “more than any other country on Earth.” This is technically true, but needs context. Carbon emission levels in the U.S. did drop significantly from 2000 until 2017, according to the International Energy Agency. But those emissions began to climb last year, when there was a more than 3 percent increase in carbon emissions. The agency blamed coal burning to generate electricity for much of the global rise in emissions, even as emissions dropped in several European countries and in Mexico.
Other Trump claims this week were meaningless platitudes. The president said, for example, that the U.S. ranked number one in the world for access to clean drinking water. The U.S. is among dozens of developed countries, in Europe, Asia and North and South America and the Middle East, where 100 percent of citizens have access to clean drinking water. That access is obviously a good thing, but we’re far from alone in this regard.
During his lengthy remarks, the president never mentioned climate change, which more than a dozen federal agencies recently warned will have dire consequences and huge costs if the U.S. doesn’t quickly take action. Instead, the Trump administration is moving in the opposite direction with the president denying that climate change is real and championing policies to produce more energy from heat-trapping fossil fuels while also weakening or gutting regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It all adds up to a distressing environmental record, despite the president’s greenwashing speech.