In a speech Monday, President Donald Trump painted himself as a steward of the environment, arguing that his policies promote clean air and water while also helping grow the economy.
“We will defend the environment but we will also defend American sovereignty, American prosperity and American jobs,” Trump said in remarks at the White House.
The president touted his record on air and water quality, ocean cleanliness and greenhouse gas emissions. But a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll found a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s record on climate change more than any other issue — with 62 percent saying they disapproved of the president’s approach.
Trump has also been criticized by environmental organizations like the Sierra Club for pulling out of the Paris climate accord, rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations and promoting fossil fuel production.
Monday’s speech comes in the shadow of the 2020 presidential race, where Democrats have made climate change a top issue and rolled out proposals that would reverse Trump’s approach to environmental and energy policy.
On reducing pollution
In the speech, Trump ticked off policies that he said have helped reduce air and water pollution. He cited a move by the Environmental Protection Agency last month aimed at reducing exposure to lead-contaminated dust, and said the agency is also in the process of strengthening drinking water standards.
“From day one my administration has made it a top priority to ensure that America is among the very cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet,” Trump said. But during his time in office, Trump has also worked to roll back air and water pollution regulations, many of them put in place by his predecessor. The New York Times found at least 14 air and water pollution rollbacks under Trump. His administration reversed the Stream Protection Rule, for example, which regulated pollution from surface coal mining. In 2017, he ended a requirement that oil and gas producers report methane emissions.
On greenhouse gas emissions
Trump singled out the rise in natural gas development under his watch. “We’re unlocking American energy and the U.S. is now a net exporter of clean, affordable, American natural gas,” Trump said. He added, “Since 2000, our nation’s energy-related carbon emissions have declined more than any other country on earth.”
The president is right that the U.S. is now a net exporter of natural gas, and natural gas is slightly cleaner than other fossil fuels. But while natural gas does emit less CO2 than coal and oil, it still produces greenhouse gas emissions,unlike renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar. Natural gas also emits methane, which is a more powerful heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide.
Under Trump, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions spiked by 3.4 percent in 2018. The last time there was such an increase was in 2010. Trump did away with Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan, which was aimed at reducing 2005-level emissions by 32 percent by 2030.
Trump replaced the Clean Power Plan with his own policy, which would cut carbon emissions by 0.7 to 1.5 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement signaled his opposition taking part in helping reduce global emissions.
On ocean pollution
In his speech, Trump also talked about efforts “to take on the challenge of marine litter and debris.” There are more than 150 million metric tons of plastic waste in the oceans, and tons more are dumped each year.
“I’m sure you’ve all seen… thousands and thousands of tons of this debris float onto our shores after it’s dumped into the oceans by other countries,” Trump said.
The U.S. is the leading exporter of plastic scrap in the world, but Trump has made progress on this issue. The president said there was a provision in the replacement trade deal for NAFTA that would take on the issue of marine plastics. The deal, between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, has not yet been ratified by Congress. Trump also mentioned the Save Our Seas Act, which he signed in 2018. The bipartisan legislation reauthorized the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program and encouraged international cooperation on the issue.