Trump the environmentalist? ‘No. 1 since Teddy Roosevelt.’

Source: By Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 9, 2020

President Trump proclaimed himself “the great environmentalist” in Florida yesterday as he was flanked by two former energy lobbyists whom he has tasked with rolling back environmental and climate protections.

Trump traveled to the key swing state to announce that Florida, along with South Carolina and Georgia, would be exempt from offshore oil and gas drilling. He was joined by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

Trump used his trip to Jupiter, in South Florida, to tout his support for local initiatives like Everglade preservation, preventing toxic algae and the construction of a massive dike at Lake Okeechobee. He also said that he was committed to ensuring the U.S. would have the cleanest air and water on Earth.

In reality, the Trump administration has targeted environmental safeguards under an aggressive deregulatory agenda, rolling back dozens of protections meant to decrease air and water pollution from vehicles, power plants and agriculture.

Trump’s comments contrasted to his assertions in January 2018, when his administration announced plans to dramatically expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.

Even as the president spoke yesterday of the “sacred obligation” of environmentalism, his speech also brimmed with ambitious goals for growth in fossil fuels.

He threw his support behind hydraulic fracturing and the expansion of natural gas, and he seemed to celebrate America’s limitless thirst for gasoline. He never mentioned renewable energy or electric vehicles, two growing segments of the economy.

Instead, he blamed Democrats for not doing more to protect the environment. If Democrat Joe Biden ousts him from the White House, Trump said, the environment would be “permanently injured.”

“They talk a big game, and they do nothing. That’s really what it is, too,” Trump said. “They talk and talk the environment. They talk and talk. Nothing happens. It’s all talk.

“To our political opponents, environmental policy is just an excuse to advance a socialist platform that will impose trillions and trillions of dollars in new taxes and send our jobs overseas, making it impossible to open up new companies and to live less expensively,” he added.

Biden has proposed an aggressive climate plan that analysts suggest could shift the country away from fossil fuels in a few decades, while dramatically increasing renewable energy resources.

Yesterday, Biden connected Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic to his record on the environment by pointing to Trump’s plan to expand oil and gas drilling on public lands.

“When it comes to the coronavirus, it’s no surprise that President Trump has refused to listen to the experts and the scientists — just look at his environmental record,” Biden said in a statement. “Trump has called the climate crisis a ‘hoax.’ He has eliminated rules designed to keep our air and water clean. And, dangerously, he has opened up additional public lands, both on land and offshore, to the possibility of new oil and gas drilling, a deeply unpopular threat to Florida’s natural environment and tourism-based economy.”

Trump’s trip to Florida came as polling shows that he is in a tight race in a state he calls home. A NBC News/Marist poll released yesterday shows that Florida voters are split between Trump and Biden, at 48% for each candidate. Trump won the state by less than 2 percentage points in 2016.

Having strong environmental policies is essential to winning the state, observers said. Those issues cross typical partisan boundaries because the state is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, intensifying hurricanes and flooding.

Climate and environmental policy has bipartisan support in Florida, said Alex Flint, a former GOP Senate staffer who runs the carbon tax group Alliance for Market Solutions.

Flint, whose group has conducted multiple polls and focus groups in the state, said research shows Democrats are perceived as being stronger on the issue than Republicans. But candidates from either party can attract swing voters by offering plans to protect the environment.

“Florida voters regardless of party believe the climate is changing and want to see their elected officials do something about it,” Flint said. “For many of them, whether their politicians acknowledge climate change has become a litmus test for whether they are truthful.”

Trump’s decision to leave Florida waters free of oil rigs appeared to receive some leeway from the oil and gas industry. Some energy officials said the move was an understandable political decision with the election less than two months away.

“It makes sense not to drill in your own backyard when you are going to need the support of your neighbors,” said Dan Eberhart, a prominent Trump donor and CEO of Canary LLC, an oil services company. “I think his pivot will be understood by the industry as a political necessity, not necessarily a rebuke of his support of the fossil fuel industry.”

Environmental advocates said Trump’s posturing won’t fool voters.

“This is a transparent attempt to manipulate Floridians two months before Election Day,” said Gina McCarthy, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and a former EPA administrator under President Obama.

Instead, she said Trump is “putting a bull’s-eye on Florida for ever-rising seas, more punishing hurricanes, hotter heat waves and increased tropical diseases.”

At times yesterday, Trump himself seemed to question his commitment to the environment. After noting that he recently signed the Great American Outdoors Act, which provides funding for national parks, Trump suggested that initially he was against the idea — until Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republicans convinced him that it would increase his popularity.

“You know, they came to my office — a lot of the senators that I just introduced, and Ron, and everybody — they came to my office,” Trump said yesterday.

“They said that ‘this will make us and make you the No. 1 environmental president since Teddy Roosevelt.’ I said, ‘Huh, that sounds good.’ Because I wasn’t going to do it. I figured, ‘You know, let’s not do it.’ But when they said that, that was like a challenge.”

“But it’s true: number one since Teddy Roosevelt,” Trump added. “Who would have thought Trump is the great environmentalist?”