When it comes to environmental policy, it’s hardly “America First.” In fact, according to Yale University’s environmental performance ranking, it’s America 27th, compared with other nations. Despite this inconvenient truth, President Donald Trump this week boasted of his team’s hard work to ensure our country has “crystal-clean” water and air. The sham event had to be moved indoors thanks to epic storms and flooding in Washington. Good thing — otherwise lightning might have struck him for all his lies.
Trump took credit for protecting our most vulnerable citizens from pollution and for creating clean-energy jobs by unleashing innovation and reshoring fossil fuel jobs. But here’s the truth: Like ruthless hit men, the president and his administration have systematically whacked many of this country’s most important environmental protections. It’s time to hit back with reality.
When it comes to crystal-clean air and water, the administration has knocked off 50 key environmental rules, including Obama administration rules to reduce coal power plants’ pollution, increase car fuel efficiency and define which bodies are subject to the Clean Water Act. And the regulatory rollback is far from over; another 30 anti-environmental actions remain in progress.
Harvard University scientists estimate the removal of these regulations will result in tens of thousands of premature deaths annually, as well as lost work and school days and destruction of property. Worst of all, the administration has turned its back on the most vulnerable, thwarting enforcement by dropping environmental inspections to their lowest number and referring the fewest environmental crimes cases to the Justice Department since 2001.
The dirty dealing doesn’t stop there. As for clean-energy innovation, Trump has killed off climate science and clean-energy programs, placed tariffs on imported solar panels, proposed loosening energy conservation standards for consumer products and removed the United States from the Paris climate accord. The president mocked wind power, laughably claiming turbines cause cancer (actually, Mr. President, toxic pollution does that). The only thing he hasn’t managed to extirpate is the market success of renewable energy, the source of all those clean-energy jobs he “created,” which has happened despite the president’s actions, not because of them.
Yes, the administration has cleaned up a few waste sites, but officials also have jammed through new leases on federal lands for oil, gas and mineral development that will create hundreds more toxic messes. The few pristine areas remaining haven’t even escaped Trump’s crosshairs. The administration is preparing leases for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Arctic Ocean, and has vastly reduced the size of national monuments protecting sacred Native American sites. It also lowered safety standards for the drilling that would occur there. It has even allowed states with standards lower than the federal government’s to regulate the dumping of their own toxic coal ash waste; loosened financial responsibility requirements for hard rock mining companies so that they can shirk cleanup responsibilities; lowered the standards allowing the increased “flaring” of methane gas; and sped up the permitting of oil and gas pipelines.
Regarding public health, the administration has lowered standards and limited or defunded research on toxic air pollutants, such as mercury, and the impact such toxins have on children. It has refused court orders to regulate toxic pesticides and failed to ban the spraying of pesticides near schools. And as for loving God’s creatures, the administration has loosened the key provisions of the law protecting species from extinction and allowed the importation of “trophies” of endangered species such as lions, giraffes and elephants into the United States by big-game hunters.
Since his first day in office, the president has acted with absolute disregard for the well-being of all Americans but particularly children, the elderly and the poor. His administration has kowtowed to the chemical and fossil-fuel industries (reportedly wining and dining with them immediately after the president’s victory lap speech on Monday). It has mowed down 50 years of progress in conservation and reined in enforcement of environmental laws to an all-time low.
Any environmental success the president can claim is likely the result of the hard work of prior administrations (Republican and Democratic) and a system of environmental laws and standards that he openly disregards and is actively trying to destroy. After bragging about how much he digs coal and loves to wipe out burdensome regulations, the only thing that’s crystal clear is that the president is lying to cover his dirty tracks.
Monica Medina, an adjunct professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, is an independent consultant and co-founder and co-publisher of environmental newsletter Our Daily Planet.