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Trump avoids climate change in speech on environmentalism

Donald Trump environment speech
President Trump applauds Bruce Hrobak, owner of Billy Bones Bait & Tackle, express his support for the president during an event touting the administration's environmental policy in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Mon., July 8, 2019. Reuters

President Trump touted his administration's environmental stewardship in a speech in the East Room Monday. It's a topic the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates bring up almost daily, but not one Mr. Trump often addresses.

But a White House fact sheet obtained by CBS News ahead of the speech did not mention climate change, nor did the president. 

In his speech, the president claimed his administration is working diligently to improve the environment, insisting the environment and economy go hand-in-hand. The environment can't be strong without a strong economy, Mr. Trump said. The president did tout the importance of forest management to prevent fires in California, and blasted the "Green New Deal."

"While we're focused on practical solutions, more than 100 Democrats in Congress support the so-called Green New Deal," the president said. "Their plan is estimated to cost our economy nearly $100 trillion. A number unthinkable. A number not affordable even in the best of times. If you go 150 years from now, and we've had great success, that's not a number that's even thought to be affordable. Kill millions of jobs, it'll crush the dreams of the poorest Americans and disproportionately harm minority communities. I will not stand for it. We will defend the environment but we will also defend American sovereignty, American prosperity, and we will defend American jobs."

The president brought various Cabinet members and supporters on stage in the East Room to tout his administration's work in energy and the environment, and promised to repeat the "Salute to America" Fourth of July celebration he held last week

"It was something really special and I will say this it was a wonderful day for all Americans and based on its tremendous success, we're just making the decision, and I think we can say we've made the decision, to do it again next year, and maybe we can say for the foreseeable future," the president said. 

An aide told CBS News the president has been wanting to talk about environmentalism. Axios reported the president's daughter and top adviser, Ivanka Trump, urged him to make the speech. The aide said that Brooke Rollins, a White House staff member who has teamed up with Ivanka Trump's husband, Jared Kushner, on other projects, has also been working on the speech.

Mr. Trump, over the course of his presidency, has undone much of President Obama's environmental achievements, withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement and rolling back regulations like the Clean Power Plan. The president has also expressed skepticism about government research that shows a warming planet and potentially catastrophic consequences if the trend continues.

"One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we're not necessarily such believers," the president said in an interview with the Washington Post last year, asked why he was skeptical of the dire National Climate Assessment his administration released. "As to whether or not it's man-made and whether or not the effects that you're talking about are there, I don't see it," he added.

The president, who campaigned alongside coal miners and oil and gas barons, believes the economic toll of converting energy production from fossil fuels to renewable sources is too great. And he has consistently argued that doing so would put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage.

"We are reaching our environmental goals in a manner that also encourages economic growth," said a White House fact sheet that was provided to CBS News. The fact sheet did not contain any new environmental initiatives.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler insisted on a conference call with reporters that the air and water are cleaner under the Trump administration. He also insisted the administration cares about climate change

"We are addressing climate change," Wheeler told reporters.

But not all conservatives are keen on how the Trump administration is addressing the environment. 

Benji Backer, president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition, which participated in Monday's White House event, said the White House hasn't really been on board with environmental reforms, "so we're trying to help change that and show that conservatives are also on board with environmental reform."

The best thing the administration can do, Backer said, is first acknowledge that man-made climate change is a problem, which would "help set the tone on policy" because "so many Republicans toe the Trump line."

"We would love to see that. I don't know how realistic that is, but obviously we'd love to see that," Backer added.

According to a fact sheet on the speech obtained by CBS News, Mr. Trump intended to highlight some of the following. The fact sheet provided to CBS News does not reference climate change or global warming:

  • Signing the Save Our Seas Act in 2018, bipartisan legislation which aims to reduce garbage in the ocean
  • Removal by EPA of all or part of 22 Superfund sites from the National Priorities List in fiscal year 2018, the most since the 2005 fiscal year. The Associated Press noted in January 2018 that the cleanup work had been completed on seven of these sites before President Trump took office. The AP also pointed out that the rate of Superfund delisting by the Trump administration lagged both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.
  • Funding of environmental projects in the Florida Everglades and Great Lakes
  • Continued decline of air pollutant emissions for "criteria pollutants" and the U.S. top-10 ranking in 2018 for air quality -- the only country with a population over 50 million in the top ten.
  • While it's true that the U.S. ranked 10th on the Environmental Performance Index list for air quality in 2018, the air in the U.S. air is not the cleanest it has ever been, a claim often made by Mr. Trump. Last month, the Associated Press analyzed Environmental Protection Agency data and found that "[t]here were noticeably more polluted air days each year in the president's first two years in office than any of the four years before."
  • Designation of 1.3 million acres as protected public land. In 2017, Mr. Trump cut the size of two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante, that Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had designated.
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