(de)regulation nation: Trump tries to spin his environmental record

“This speech is a true ‘1984’ moment."

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Scheduling a White House policy event for the Monday after a four-day holiday weekend is just one shovelful away from burying it completely.  

That may explain why Team Trump chose July 8 to hold a showcase on what it termed “America’s environmental leadership” under the Trump presidency, and only lightly publicized it in advance. 

But word did get out, thanks to a number of well-sourced journalists in the D.C.-based press corps. So I knew to tune in to the live-stream on Monday afternoon, fingers at the ready to live-Tweet whatever would happen.

When it comes to keeping campaign promises, President Trump has largely delivered on his environmental and energy vows: The New York Times is tracking 83 federal rules that the administration has targeted for elimination. 

But at this event, the president was low-energy about his deregulatory successes. In between his delivery of campaign-ready stock phrases — such as “reducing carbon emissions” (while never mentioning climate change), “crystal clean water,” and “good stewards of our public land” — administration officials and other guests came to the mic to laud Trump warmly for conservation and anti-pollution progress achieved by past presidents, sometimes dating back to the 1970s.

As regular readers of this newsletter know, Trump’s actual environmental policy accomplishments are of a different order. Just a few: Opening millions of acres of public lands to drilling and coal mining. Gutting rules that would reduce carbon emissions and other air pollution, and help preserve clean water. Sidelining scientific experts at environment-related agencies. Ignoring the growing national security risks of climate change. Rewriting freedom-of-information rules meant to help the public hold environment-related agencies and appointees accountable.

As an environment journalist, I’ve borne witness to some energetic twisting of environmental facts by presidents, other elected officials, and their allies and appointees. But I was dizzied by the spin attempted at this event.

“By now, we are used to Trump’s big-lie technique,” writes Bill McKibben in The New Yorker. “Even by that standard, however, the claim that ‘we are working harder than many previous Administrations, maybe almost all of them,’ on environmental protection will be believed by exactly no one for whom words have not yet lost their common-sense meaning.”

Yesterday, Trump and his officials wrung the facts by the neck, and hung them out to dry.

But after two and a half years of this White House’s love affair with disinformation and distraction, that’s not much of a shock.

The real question is, why did they do it?

Onward:

bad: Trump lies about its environmental record by omission and distortion

  • The New York Times compared what Trump said at Monday’s event to the administration’s actual de-regulatory direction

  • CNN also has a pretty comprehensive fact-check of the false or misleading claims Trump and his officials made during the event.

  • Trump’s speech was a “Javanka Special,” according to sources who spoke to Axios, “a phrase some conservative administration officials use to describe liberal moves they blame on Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.”

  • But Trump’s re-election anxieties were a bigger factor. 

better: Voters are turned off by Trump’s environment and climate policies

  • “Trump’s big-man folly—withdrawing from the Paris climate accords, for instance, when it would have been easy enough to sabotage progress more quietly—has decisively discomforted the suburban voters that he must retain for reëlection,” writes McKibben in his New Yorker piece.

  • Even in reliably-red Florida, the electoral ground may be shifting around climate and environment issues, the Miami Herald reports.

  • “It’s been a winning strategy for Republicans in Florida for over a decade. The basic tactic is to address specific, pressing policy challenges facing Florida communities — algal blooms , coastal flooding , threats to the Everglades — without discussing the climatic forces driving change,” writes the Herald.

  • (Coincidentally, algal blooms and threats to the Everglades both came up on Monday.)

  • “But environmental politics in Florida have shifted since Trump’s first run for the presidency in 2016,” it goes on. “Republicans in Florida who as recently as last year ran successful campaigns void of any mention of climate change now acknowledge the phenomenon as a threat…[T]he Trump campaign has yet to follow their lead.”

good: lawmakers are scrutinizing whether Trump fleeced National Parks for his July Fourth event

  • The president reportedly made his July Fourth “Salute to America,” which sought to to transform D.C.’s usual non-partisan feel-good festival of Americana into a nationalist campaign commercial, a priority for Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, according to DCist.

  • Interior ended up spending $2.5 million on the event, which saw Trump flanked by Army tanks and framed by Air Force flyovers.

  • Those millions of dollars, according to Bloomberg Environment, came from National Park Service entrance fees.

  • National Park entrance fees are supposed to go solely towards covering park expenses, including the system’s multi-decade, $11.9 billion in deferred maintenance.

  • “While the administration has said they are supportive in trying to find ways to address deferred maintenance issues,” a staffer for a national parks advocacy group told Bloomberg, “it’s ironic that they’re pulling fee dollars that are slated to primarily go toward deferred maintenance to pay for this added event.”

  • Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), chair of a House committee that oversees environment-related spending, told Bloomberg that she may investigate how that money got shunted from National Parks to Trump’s event.

  • The event also cost the Pentagon $1.2 million, reports CBS news, to cover “flying hours and transportation for tanks and fighting vehicle platforms.”

  • While the Pentagon noted that it spends similar amounts on other events, such as fleet weeks in various cities, this was an unusual expense, since Trump’s militarization of the national July 4 celebration is unprecedented in modern times.

  • “Trump marshaled tanks, bombers and other machinery of war,” notes Military Times, “for a Fourth of July event that traditionally is light on military might, while critics accused him of using America’s military as a political prop.”

  • “A fundamental feature of the military’s role in American democracy is its insulation from politics, which is meant to ensure the armed forces’ loyalty to the Constitution rather than to an individual elected leader,” the Military Times continues. “Muscular military displays of the kind that are common in authoritarian countries like China and North Korea are not quintessentially American.”

great: environmental justice for the win as Detroit shuts down nation’s largest municipal trash incinerator

  • Environmental justice activists in Detroit have fought for decades to get a polluting trash incinerator named “Detroit Renewable Power” shut down.

  • Their efforts succeeded earlier this year, when the plant finally shut down, on March 27, although the site still operates as a garbage transfer station.

  • “Most of the waste” — one million tons of solid waste from 13 southeastern Michigan counties — “[came] from whiter, more affluent communities, placing the burden of disposal on a mostly African American, lower-income community — classic environmental racism,” Kim Hunter, an environmental justice activist with Breathe Free Detroit, told a reporter.

  • Air pollution from the incinerator has caused spiking asthma rates and lung health problems in nearby African American neighborhoods, which also have endured daily life amid nauseating garbage odors.

  • A 2016 state report found that asthma rates for Detroit adults are nearly 30 percent greater than those in the rest of the state.

  • U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the congresswoman representing the neighborhoods near the incinerator, wants local residents to have “legal recourse” and “include the community in conversations about what will happen next with the property surrounding the incinerator.”

  • Read all about it in Midwest Energy News.


Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m a veteran environmental journalist and a graduate of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism ’s annual fellowship. You’ll find links to my past reporting and more biographical goodness at my website .

Please send tips and suggestions to: emily@deregnation.com

This week’s quote is how David G. Victor, a law and regulation expert at the University of California, San Diego, described Trump’s environmental speech on Monday to The New York Times.

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