Republican Christine Todd Whitman, the former Environmental Protection Agency administrator during President George W. Bush’s administration, dismissed President Donald Trump’s bid to recast himself as an environmental champion, calling the effort doomed to fail amid an ongoing assault on air and water protections.
In an interview with HuffPost, Whitman said Trump’s 45-minute speech on Monday touting his “environmental leadership” showed he “knows he’s on shaky ground” going into the 2020 election in which, for the first time, global warming and ecological collapse may emerge as core issues.
Whitman said Trump’s attempt to put a positive spin on his administration’s environmental record is unlikely to impress anyone beyond his loyal base of supporters.
“He’s living in his own reality,” Whitman, a former New Jersey governor, said by phone Tuesday. “He’s definitely in another world.”
In his White House speech, Trump scraped the barrel for environmental achievements that didn’t require an asterisk, pointing to his signing a bipartisan bill to reduce garbage in the ocean. Other items he highlighted were more problematic in terms of making his case.
Trump bragged about progress in delisting Superfund sites, but that’s largely a procedural step based on clean-up work that began, in some cases, decades ago. He stressed how much he values public lands, noting the 1.3 million acres he designated for protection ― but glossed over the more than 2 million acres he shaved off other national monuments.
Joined at the podium by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, they spotlighted a 74% reduction in air pollution since 1970, skirting the latest federal data that show a 15% increase in days with unhealthy air in 2017 and 2018, compared to 2013 through 2016.
Yet the misleading examples, Whitman said, are secondary to the glaring reality that Trump’s deregulatory blitz poses a risk to environmental health by any measure.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has sought to repeal, replace or delay more than 80 environmental regulations, particularly those dealing with planet-warming emissions from the fossil fuel sector.
Wheeler finalized a proposal last month to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, a sweeping regulation on coal-fired utilities, with the Affordable Clean Energy rule, a modest requirement to add retrofits to some plants. The White House is also working to unwind fuel economy standards, setting up a prolonged legal fight that, as automakers publicly oppose the plan, is widely criticized as a giveaway to oil companies.
Adding policy weight to the president’s routine taunting of climate scientists ― he delights in pointing to temporary cold snaps as evidence disproving irrefutable long-term warming trends ―, the administration appointed climate change skeptics to key White House positions and gutted science advisory boards.
The regulatory rollbacks come as carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere are hitting levels unseen in 800,000 years, and scientists across the globe resoundingly warn that the world is quickly running out of time to avoid catastrophic warming.
“I don’t think the American people are going to buy that we are somehow going to do better with the environment when we are rolling back every regulation and eviscerating the Science Advisory Board,” Whitman said. “Right now, Republicans and the president are on the wrong side of the issue.”