WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump declared himself a champion of the environment Monday, working to boost his standing on climate change and pollution issues in advance of the 2020 election despite having launched some of the most sweeping rollbacks in air, water and other protections in decades.
“We have only one America. We have only one planet,” Trump said in a White House address that featured some of his most extensive remarks on the environment to date. Trump’s previous conservation statements have included campaigning to all but eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and tweets that mocked climate change science.
His administration has focused on propping up the lagging U.S. coal industry and expanding a boom in U.S. gas and oil.
“A strong economy is vital to maintaining a healthy environment,” Trump declared, saying he was balancing business-friendly oversight with public health and conservation protections.
Cabinet members stood and applauded the president’s remarks and then went to the East Room podium, one-by-one, to attest to his dedication to conservation. The president also brought to the stage a Florida bait and tackle shop owner, Bruce Hrobak, who praised what he said were the administration’s efforts against water-fouling algae before pumping his fist in the air and declaring, “Trump 2020.”
Former government regulators and environmental advocates said Trump’s promotion of its environmental record strained credulity, coming from an administration that has moved to weaken several landmark U.S. protections for air and water and roll back Obama-era efforts against climate change.
The White House is recognizing that “the majority of folks in the country are now beginning to pay attention to climate issues and environmental issues,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, a former longtime official in the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of environmental justice.
Administration officials are “trying to reframe the conversation to make people think they’ve done something to better protect them. And unfortunately they haven’t done a single thing,” Ali said. He pointed to EPA estimates that proposed rollbacks for fossil fuel emissions will cause thousands of additional deaths annually from air pollution.