When It Comes to the Environment, Trump Is Gaslighter-In-Chief

James Hohmann, national political correspondent, for the Washington Post, justifiably reacted with vigor to Trump’s claim to be “the number one environmental president since Teddy Roosevelt.” The following is excerpted from his September 9 Daily 202 column:

President Trump had the temerity on Tuesday to describe himself not just as a “great environmentalist” but as “the number one environmental president since Teddy Roosevelt.” Trump does not even have anywhere close to the strongest environmental record among modern Republican presidents. Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. George H.W. Bush strengthened the Clean Air Act.

As always, look at what Trump does rather than what he says, and always pay close attention to when he says something (eight weeks before the election) and where (Florida).

“Environmental protection is a sacred obligation,” Trump said Tuesday in Jupiter, Florida. [One could choke listening to that.] When doing so is politically beneficial, as it was during his visit to western Pennsylvania last week, Trump presents himself as a champion for fossil fuels, including fracking and coal, as well as the consummate defender of energy jobs.

In 2018, Trump proposed a vast expansion of oil and gas drilling in U.S. continental waters. Under pressure from then-Gov. Rick Scott (R), who was running for Senate that year, the president exempted Florida. With his own name on the ballot in November, Trump announced Tuesday that he will extend a moratorium on oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, which includes the state’s west coast, as well as expanding it to include the Atlantic coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

“It’s an order that does so much for the state of Florida,” Trump told a cheering crowd on Tuesday. “This protects your beautiful Gulf and your beautiful ocean, and it will for a long time to come.” [Unless he’s re-elected and the drilling companies offer a bigger bribe.]

His comments came hours after a fresh NBC News-Marist poll showed Trump and Biden tied at 48 percent among likely voters in Florida.

A Quinnipiac University survey last year found 64 percent of Florida voters oppose offshore drilling.

A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted last year found that, nationally, more than 8 in 10 Americans said drilling in the United States should “decrease” or “stay as is.” Less than 15 percent supported an increase in drilling at sea or on public lands.

Trump has repeatedly indicated that he will do whatever it takes to help his reelection campaign and boost his allies down the ticket. On Tuesday afternoon, for example, the White House formally notified the Senate that the president is withdrawing the nomination of William “Perry” Pendley to run the Bureau of Land Management. The administration put out word that Trump would do this last month amid growing signs that Pendley’s controversial public-lands agenda was hurting the reelection hopes of Republican Sens. Cory Gardner in Colorado and Steve Daines in Montana.

Trump also reportedly signed the Great American Outdoors Act last month, which funds the national park conservation efforts he touted, partly to help Daines and Gardner hold their Senate seats. Trump said lawmakers told him that if he signed the bill, it would make him “the number one environmental president since Teddy Roosevelt.”

“I said, ‘Huh, that sounds good,’ because I wasn’t going to do it,” Trump told the crowd in Florida. “I figured, you know, let’s not do it. But when they said that, there was like a challenge. … Who would have thought Trump is the great environmentalist?” [Nobody, and only fools believe it now.]

Trump also reversed himself last month on his administration’s decision to grant a permit for a controversial gold and copper mine in Alaska. The move represents a blow to Pebble Mine, which was vetoed under President Barack Obama but has been revived under the Trump administration. Trump changed his position at the urging of his son Donald Trump Jr., Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Vice President Pence’s former chief of staff Nick Ayers, who have campaigned against the project on the grounds it could harm the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay.

Republican governors lead all three states that benefit from the offshore drilling moratorium announced by Trump. It might also boost Senate incumbents facing tough reelection fights in Georgia and South Carolina. Other states on the Eastern seaboard that are led by Democratic governors who also want the federal moratorium on offshore drilling were snubbed, including North Carolina and Virginia.

This president is removing the United States from the Paris climate accord, a marquee move that will be central to his legacy and become official the day after the election. But in addition to Trump calling climate change a “hoax” and attacking alternative fuel sources, there have been efforts by his appointees to avoid even mentioning the issue of climate change in official policy documents and to remove the topic from a list of national security threats.

The Brookings Institution, which maintains a database that tracks Trump’s deregulatory agenda, counts 74 actions that this administration has taken to weaken environmental protections. The Trump administration replaced Obama’s Clean Power Plan, rolled back fuel economy standards, stripped California’s autonomy to set its own fuel economy rules, weakened methane and mercury limits, reduced pollution reporting requirements and relaxed standards for disposing of coal ash. Trump has lifted bans on oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and parts of the National Petroleum Reserve. Administration lawyers have fought environmental groups tooth and nail in court for three-and-a-half years. 

Many of Trump’s most aggressive moves to eviscerate environmental protections have come around holidays and late on Fridays going into long weekends, a classic P.R. tactic aimed at minimizing public attention and thereby blunting outrage.

Trump’s environmental record, just in the period since the pandemic began pummeling America, speaks louder than his rhetoric. Take a gander at this sampling of Washington Post headlines from the past five months:

  • Aug. 31: “Trump administration rolls back Obama-era rule aimed at limiting toxic wastewater from coal plants.”
  • Aug. 13: “Trump administration scraps limits on methane leaks at oil and gas sites.”
  • Aug. 11: “Quoting ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ judge strikes down Trump administration rollback of historic law protecting birds.”
  • July 15: “Trump scales back landmark environmental law, saying it will help restart the economy.”
  • July 13: “Trump’s move to weaken key environmental law could sideline communities of color.”
  • July 13: “EPA rejects tougher air-quality standards, says 2015 limits are sufficient.”
  • July 6: “Major oil and gas pipeline projects, backed by Trump, flounder as opponents prevail in court.”
  • June 25: “Trump administration wants drilling on more than two-thirds of the largest swath of U.S. public land.”
  • June 8: “Trump administration makes it easier for hunters to kill bear cubs and wolf pups in Alaska.”
  • June 5: “Trump lifts limits on commercial fishing at ocean sanctuary off New England.”
  • June 4: “Trump signs order to waive environmental reviews for key projects.”
  • June 1: “EPA limits states and tribes’ ability to protest pipelines and other energy projects.”
  • May 19: “EPA staff warned that mileage rollbacks had flaws. Trump officials ignored them.”
  • May 18: “Two states, D.C. plan to sue EPA for failing to enforce Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan.”
  • May 14: “EPA decides against limits on drinking water pollutant linked to health risks, especially in children.”
  • April 19: “Ten years after Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Trump administration weakens regulations.”
  • April 16: “EPA overhauls mercury pollution rule, despite opposition from industry and activists alike.”

Speaking only a few miles away from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Tuesday, Trump also bragged about federal money he authorized to restore and protect the Everglades, including a dike at Lake Okeechobee. “But the Trump administration actually sought to eliminate that specific funding earlier in the president’s tenure,” Dino Grandoni notes in the Energy 202. “Lawmakers restored it after the White House removed the ask from its budget requests to Congress. The White House amended its budget proposal last year after touring the lake and hearing from Sen. Marco Rubio and other Republican members of Congress from Florida who pushed to restore the money.”

Look at what the wizard does rather than what he says. And, when he does it.

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